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Tips for Preparing for an IEP Meeting

By Linda Carter-Ferrier

I can still clearly recall the first IEP meeting that I attended for my son. He was 3 years old, and because we had concerns about his development, he had an observation by the Child Find team. They told me that he would need formal assessments, went over the paperwork, and asked for my signature. I walked out feeling like I had a vague idea of what had just taken place. The next few IEP meetings, where they reviewed the evaluation results and stated that he met the eligibility criteria for an IEP based on his disability of autism, and then presented and obtained my written approval for the initial IEP, all ended with that same feeling that I had a vague idea of what was going on.

That was 12 years ago, and since that time, I have attended countless IEP meetings for him as well his brother, who has Aspergers Syndrome. Over the past 5 years I have also attended many IEP meetings for other children in my role as a Parent Advocate. What I have learned is that there are valuable things that parents can do to prepare for IEP meetings, and that doing these things can significantly increase our ability to be active and involved participants in the IEP process. These suggestions apply to preparing for any type of IEP meeting.

First, having a clear understanding of the purpose of the meeting, including who will be there and what will be discussed, considered, reviewed, and/or decided. One of the most important phrases that we should use as often as necessary is “I want to make sure that I understand….” Don’t be hesitant to ask for clarification and information.

Second, have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish at the meeting. It often helps to prepare something in writing that you can refer to, such as a check-list or brief talking points. For example, in preparing for an annual review, I often write down the 3 or 4 key ideas that I want to make sure I communicate to the team. These might include things that have been ongoing areas of concern during the past year that I believe need to be addressed better in the IEP, or things that were problems that we developed an effective solution for, and need to be sure to include in the IEP.

Third, have a clear idea of your current priorities for your child. Our thoughts can overflow with all of the concerns we have about our child’s areas of difficulty – communication, social skills, self-care skills, academics, etc. One way to identify priorities is to fill a large piece of paper with all of your thoughts, and then come back to it again later prepared to select no more than 3 to 5 items that you believe are the critical items that should be the focus of attention for the next 6 to 12 months. This doesn’t mean that all of the other items won’t ever be addressed. Be prepared to share your ideas of what you believe should be the current priorities for your child at the IEP meeting, along with information about why you selected these items.

Fourth, gather and review materials and information. We accumulate a monumental amount of papers about our children, and it is hard to keep it even minimally organized. The value of going through these papers is that they contain information to help you prepare for the IEP meeting. Gathering and reviewing these papers can be particularly helpful if you are having difficulty deciding what you want to accomplish at the meeting or deciding what you want the priority items/areas to be for the next 6 to 12 months. You can then use the material you found to support your statements at the meeting.

Implementing these suggestions will require some work and some effort. I have found that these suggestions can be effectively accomplished by devoting small blocks of time to each of them over 3 – 4 days. The result is that you will walk into an IEP meeting much more able to serve as an active and involved participant, because you have a clear understanding of the purpose of the meeting, a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, a clear idea about your current priorities for your child, and you have brought the necessary materials and information to support your ideas.

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