Ask the Expert: Getting the Most Out of the IEP Process from Autism Society of North Carolina

Ask the Expert: Getting the Most Out of the IEP Process

From: Autism Society of North Carolina

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act 2004 (IDEA), which is a federal law. This law guarantees a Free Appropriate Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for all children with disabilities who need special education and related services. If you mention “IEP meeting” to parents, you’re very likely to hear about the difficult times many have experienced. But there are steps you can take to ensure that the process is as amicable and efficient as possible.

The IEP Team — of which parents are equal members — chooses annual goals for a student to achieve. This document provides the direction for your child’s education as well as specifying the amount and type of services your child will receive, which is why it is so important. As active participants in our children’s education, we all want our child to receive the best education and services possible. However, the federal law only mandates that the education be free and appropriate. That is one of the primary sources of conflict in an IEP meeting: parents naturally want what is best; schools are only required to provide what is appropriate. How do we resolve this conflict?

As Parent Advocates, we encourage parents to establish positive relationships with teachers, administrators, and staff at their child’s school. Volunteer when you can, keep in touch with teachers, educate teachers and staff about your child, join the PTA, help your child with homework — these all good ways to stay connected to the school. Before an IEP meeting, do your homework: What do you want out of this meeting? What does the school want out of this meeting? What do you want the school to do? Is the school likely to be motivated to take those actions? How can you persuade the school to take these steps?

Try to think of an IEP meeting as a business meeting between professionals who want to help educate a child; you are the expert/professional on your child and the teacher is the professional educator. Address any problems by separating the people from the problem (difficulty with math, not poor instruction, for example). The members of the IEP team are there to support your child, so focus on that support as opposed to focusing on a position that a person may have taken (how to approach the problem with math, not someone’s preferred method of teaching it). Asking questions can be a good way to verbalize your concerns, show that you are actively listening, and lead someone to a desired conclusion.

Working with bureaucracies, it is easy to forget that there can be unusual solutions, but we want to encourage creative thinking. Again, asking questions can lead to productive brainstorming — what are all the possible ways to solve this problem? For example, instead of using core curriculum time for a related service, perhaps speech therapy could happen at lunch — maybe with other children, to foster social skills. People are more interested in the success of a plan when they have helped develop it, so engage as many team members as possible in this process.

In order to judge the effectiveness of an IEP, insist on the objective measurement of the annual goals. Tests, assessments, documented teacher observations, End of Grade tests, and End of Course exams all provide evidence of progress or regression. Using unbiased test scores removes opinions from the discussion, once again separating the problem from the people.

Your relationship with teachers and administrators is vitally important to your child’s education, as is your relationship with all service providers for your child. By being well-prepared and keeping the meeting focused on what is important (educating your child), parents can help avoid gridlock.  After all, persuasion is more often successful than making demands.

If the IEP team cannot come to a consensus, there are several options to resolve disputes. Please see our IEP Resource Guide for more information.

The Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) is introducing new toolkits to help empower parents and caregivers of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The free guides will be available on the ASNC website so that anyone may read, download and print them.

The first two toolkits, on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), are meant to empower parents and caregivers of school-age children. They were researched and written by ASNC’s Autism Resource Specialists, who are themselves parents of individuals with autism and now work with families in need of support. An IEP is a written statement of the educational program specifically designed to meet the individual needs of a student with special needs. A strong IEP is an important part of ensuring a child’s success in school.

To read the toolkits, please click here:

The toolkits were posted last week as part of Autism Awareness Month. Throughout the month, the Autism Society of North Carolina has highlighted the challenges faced by families and individuals affected by autism in our state, and how the community can support them as they work to overcome these issues and lead fulfilling lives.

Each month we’ll feature an “Expert” take on an issue impacting the lives of those living with autism. We want to know what you want to hear! Share your question or topic for the “Ask the Expert” column in our Autism Society LinkedIn group and your question may be in next month’s edition