As a longtime parent advocate, I talk to many parents who are worried about being prepared for meetings. One of the most common questions I hear is: “How do I make sure the school gives me what my child needs?”
I tend to answer with a couple questions of my own: “What do you think your child needs and why?” and “Have you thought about where you’ll hold the line?”
These aren’t easy questions. But as I explain in my book, The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education, you have insight into your child that nobody else has.
You’re the one who knows what happens when she sits down to do homework at the end of the day.
You’re the one who knows how it’s going on the bus to and from school every day.
You’re the one who knows the cumulative impact of her struggles in school or with friends over the years and how that affects her attitude toward school and herself.
Making sure your child gets what she needs means you have to know yourself, too. It means knowing where you and your partner stand on tough issues and having answers to some hard questions—before you walk into the IEP meeting.
Here are some of the hard questions I raise in my book:
What are your feelings about mainstreaming or inclusion in the regular education classroom? What you should consider here is how strongly you feel about your child being included (or not included) in the regular education classroom.
For some children this won’t even be an issue because and can be made in the classroom. For others, though, it’s a very real issue.
What do you know about the related services the school provides? The best IEP outlines what an ideal situation would look like for your child, but you need to be prepared for compromise. That means knowing what’s really available.
For instance, you might want your child to have time with an occupational therapist a few times a week, but if the school district only employs a certified assistant (COTA), you cannot expect them to hire an occupational therapist to work with your child. The therapist’s credentials may not be exactly what you want, but they are acceptable in terms of providing the services your child needs.
One particular question is often the most difficult to work through for parents: Where will you hold the line?
I’ve had to consider this question with my own children’s IEPs, so I know why it’s hard. It asks you to think in two different directions. On the one hand, you’re going in the door knowing what you’d like your child’s IEP to look like. On the other hand:
You will probably have to make compromises and give up parts of your ideal IEP based on what the school (and ) thinks is appropriate for your child.
That doesn’t mean you have to give up or give in. You’ve created an ideal IEP, but it’s prudent to also have an idea of what a “good enough” IEP would look like to you.
Know what you will stand firm on—and what is not so important. This is easier to do if you keep in mind that it’s not about winning. It’s about making sure your child is getting a .
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About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.