It’s IEP Season, that time of year when parents and school teams meet to review the following year’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP) or the plan students receiving special education services will have to meet their academic goals. IEP meetings can be stressful for families.

I interviewed Dr. Wendy Matthews, a psychologist in the Princeton area who spent over 30 years in private practice specializing in children and adolescents. In that time, Dr. Matthews administered hundreds of psychoeducational evaluations.

1.  What materials should parents bring with them to the IEP meeting?

All past and present evaluations, doctors’ written comments as well as therapist (speech/psych/tutor) written comments. If you haven’t had a recent evaluation or you think your child might have changed since the last evaluation, you can bring your Mindprint results.

2. Who should you insist on being at the IEP meeting?

Anyone you’d feel supported by.  It would be best if it were a professional that you have worked with who can add some authority to your views and requests. But even if you are just nervous, having a supportive individual there should be permitted.

3. Should you meet with anyone in advance of the IEP meeting ?

If you have any concerns or questions, you should discuss them with an appropriate resource.  It could be the child’s pediatrician, psychologist, speech therapist, tutor, or an educational advocate or even an attorney.

4.  What kind of goals and outcomes do you want to have from the IEP meeting?

It’s helpful to find a list online of the many possible accommodations that schools have been known to provide.  Go through the list and highlight those that make sense for your child.  If the child is old enough, let the child review the list independently.  You might find that the child has some good ideas about what will work best, and/or that the child would be strongly opposed to an idea that you think is great (e.g., having a desk work “buddy” to keep him on track.) Here are some accommodations you can consider based on your child’s areas of need:

Attention, Working Memory, Processing Speed, Motor SkillsVerbal Reasoning or Reading, Abstract Reasoning or Math, Spatial PerceptionMemory

5. What do you do if you don’t think the current teacher, counselor, or evaluation supports what you are observing at home?

Get a second opinion, or ask your child’s private psychologist to conduct an observation in the classroom. Ideally, this type of observation can be done before the IEP meeting, so you can present this at the meeting. Mindprint offers a one hour, online valid assessment and will provide results within 5 business days. If Mindprint validates the concerns or needs you are advocating, it can significantly bolster your position in the meeting. As with all private psychoeducational evaluations, you are under no obligation to share the results at the IEP meeting.

Our Mindprint Learning Specialist Adds:

In most cases, your child’s school support team is a good place to get background on how to approach these meetings. Any outside therapists will also be helpful. Additionally, seek out parents who have been through the process before and speak with them. In some cases, bringing a supportive friend with you who has been through these meetings is also helpful.  A lot can depend on the individual nature of your administrators and team, so do your homework.

Everyone involved wants to do what is best for the child, but people might have different views about what services and accommodations are needed and will be most beneficial. Sometimes emotions come out in these meetings. Showing a personal side is natural because we’re talking about a child. I think good results come when everyone in the room is respectful of the ultimate goal.

It’s an incredibly important meeting, and being prepared is key. However, parents should also know that, in the end, if they are not comfortable, they can request to reconvene and bring home the proposed IEP to consult further with a family member or professional.  The Department of Education has information on what steps a parent can take following such an unresolved outcome. Just keep in mind that the old IEP stands until a new one is signed.

Additional Resources:

1. Understood.Org has a blog post outlining school accommodations such as the one Dr. Matthews mentioned.

2.  The U.S. Department of Education provides a thorough look with:  A Guide to the Individualized Education Program.

3. A curated collection of the best articles on the web for IEPs, 504 Plans, and school accommodations.

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