How do I get the most out of an IEP meeting?
June 5, 2008 11:28 AM   Subscribe

What should I look for in the IEP and what should I ask the child study team during the IEP meeting?

A neurologist independent from the school gave my four year old son a preliminary diagnosis of ADD/ADHD and PDD with Motor Visual and Language (receptive and expressive) deficiencies. In a week or so, we're meeting with the child study team to go over their own reports and to review their IEP for my son, currently labeled as preschool disabled.

What should I look for in the plan? What questions should I be asking during the meeting?
posted by anonymous to Education (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My wife's a teacher, so I know IEP stands for Individual Education Plan or something, but schools love their acronyms and they aren't universal.

So for the other answerers, an IEP is a personalized curriculum, or a way of altering the current curriculum, to meet the needs of a student (a blind child would need worksheets read to them, dyslexic might need additional time or help with written assignments, etc).

I'll ask my wife when I get home if there's something you should specifically discuss.

Depending on the number of IEPs the teacher has to deal with, they can be less receptive or enthusiastic about the idea, since it can literally double their work since they have to write two or three or more lesson plans a day. This will be more of an issue in later grades, with teachers teaching 6-7 classes of 20-30 children. My wife doesn't have this problem currently because she is an art teacher and re-reading instructions is a mainstay anyway because the average student doesn't listen in our area.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 12:47 PM on June 5, 2008

I strongly recommend these books and the information from this site. Wrightslaw Game Plan: SMART IEPs. My personal experience has been that if you even just tell your school that you're studying the Wrightslaw stuff, they automatically start taking you more seriously.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:02 PM on June 5, 2008

As a parent of a diagnosed ADD/ADHD child (and being ADHD myself, and speaking for co-parent): come armed. Go into the meeting ARMED; there are plenty of resources available on the web with a minimal amount of googling. Ask for any brochures the school district has about "parents' rights," and remember that you don't have to sign anything until you are satisfied that your child is getting any services you think are necessary. (Usually this will be more than they offer in the meeting, since the admins are knowing they have a bottom line financially, and the teachers know their own bottom line as far as the energy/resources they themselves have as teachers.) In Massachusetts (where I'm from), the IEP team would try to steamroll over us UNTIL they understood that we came armed with information and knw our shit.

And good luck! :)
posted by not_on_display at 1:07 PM on June 5, 2008

I'm not sure how this applies to preschool, but on the chance that it will help, I'll tell you what I found I needed to know in elementary school. In North Carolina, the department of ed gives you a little booklet about the IEP, special education and your and your child's legal rights. I'm not sure if every state does that but they should - the booklet was very helpful. Here's a .pdf. These are the questions that worked for me:

1. How much time is my child going to spend in the regular classroom and how much time will he be taken out for one on one work with the special education teacher?

2. When is the classroom removal going to take place? Is this going to impact his lunch/recess/gym/art time? It was important to me that the school make every effort to minimize how much time my son got pulled out of class, not simply for educational purposes but also for socialization - I don't think recess or art are disposable.

3. What specific steps are going to be taken to help my child meet the IEP goals? Does he need a handwriting specialist? A physical therapist? When and how are you going to provide this? You may need to be flexible here. By law public schools have to provide you with every specialist necessary but sometimes that just isn't possible. Sometimes, too, they will say that the only way they can get every specialist in is for your kid to be transferred to another school. They can't actually do that. Hold your ground but be prepared to compromise.

4. What allowances are going to be made for my child when dealing with standardized tests? This is very important. We managed to get to the point where my son had a scribe for essay type tests in the later grades as well as getting to take the test alone without classroom distractions and not on the timer. This really, really helped him get through EOG testing and the like.

5. When will my child be evaluated again? How are we going to make sure that the IEP carries on from grade to grade? Be warned - you're going to have to go through this whole process again. And again. And again. You need to know when they're going to reevaluate so you can make sure you and your child is prepared.

6. How and when are you going to communicate all of this to the classroom teacher? Will next year's classroom teacher be aware of my son's special circumstances before the first day of school? Is the IEP going to be in place immediately each fall? This would seem like a no-brainer but unfortunately, as I discovered when the third grade teacher called me in the second week of school with absolutely no idea that my child even had an IEP, it isn't.

Good luck! When my son was first diagnosed - ADD, the non-HD kind, and a rare form of visual perception disorder complete with short term memory issues - I was so upset and freaked out and also so terrified by the stigma of special ed that I almost tried to deny it all and refuse any special ed services. Don't do that; these services are there for a reason and they really help a lot. Your kid isn't dumb and he can learn perfectly well - my kid is a genius, I swear he is - his brain just works differently than most people's brains. Lots of people have fought the good fight to make sure that these resources are available for your kid and mine; he has a right to them. He also has a right to be in a regular classroom, doing regular kid things and he will be. I learned to look at the IEP and the special services as an addition to his education, not a detraction from it and definitely not a sign that he was stupid and doomed to a terrible life. The stigma is much much less than it used to be but I do recommend talking to your son about it often and at length so that he can counter what some of his peers may say.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:08 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Find out what your state requires for his diagnosis, and then think about whether it would be beneficial to do those things, or to look at another diagnosis for the purposes of schooling.

Our son was diagnosed with Autism by a neurologist, but we declined that diagnosis when the school district did its tests. We did that so that he could remain "mainstreamed" and not be segregated, as he would have been with the Autism "label".

Cool Papa Bell's links are excellent. You definitely want very explicit goals. For instance, one of our son's goals was to sustain a conversation in 6 out 10 tries. We'd get a report every six weeks on the progress of those goals. Once a goal was completely met, a new, more advanced goal was set.

Strike up a congenial relationship with any OTs or PTs - that will make a world of difference in your son's progress.

Also, there may be more than just one teacher at this event - there may be a speech pathologist, a director, and an intern thrown in. It can be intimidating! If you can you might think about inviting his daycare teachers, or bring someone from your support network who can talk about the things your son can and can't do.

Good luck!
posted by lysdexic at 2:42 PM on June 5, 2008

According to my wife, some teachers are so afraid of getting sued for "failing" a student with an IEP that they just pass them no matter what, and in doing so pass them on up to be someone else's problem.

There are kids at her middle school who can barely read. They aren't the kids with reading/visual disorders either.

We don't agree with it, and it makes me angry, but it isn't just the teachers. The administration also coerces/forces teachers to pass kids that should fail. As in, they have a 30% average. All of the pressure is on passing kids for the statistics and drilling standardized testing into their skulls. There's a district mandated curriculum wherein there are "Bubble Wednesdays" where they spend 15 min of every class practicing filling in bubbles on Scantrons on Wednesdays for a month before testing. 12-14-year-olds coloring in every class.

I'm not saying that all of the kids that should fail are stupid, but many of them have learned that they pass no matter what, so they don't try. They don't know how to take notes because the teachers have to supply them, they don't do assignments because they know their grade doesn't matter.

It's not just her district either.

I don't want to get into a No Child Left Behind rant.

Just make sure that your kid possesses the skills that the school should be teaching him, regardless of his grades. The fact that you're asking here shows that you're active and interested in your child's education, which is excellent.

And if you do get a good teacher, like my wife, say thank you. It's getting to the point that she's viewing an email inbox that is empty of complaints as High Praise.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 4:28 PM on June 5, 2008

I've never done much research before going in to my kid's preschool IEP meetings, and I've always been satisfied with the IEP the school presented. At this age, where the accommodations are pretty simple, you don't need to worry too much. Unless your special snowflake is really special, the school will already have a good idea what they can offer you. There aren't any goodies they're hiding from you, no secret codes or handshakes... unless you're in a really crappy school district, which does happen.

IEPs are updated at least once a year, and can be changed as needed during the school year if your son isn't getting the services he needs.

This is preschool. There aren't standardized tests now, you don't need to worry about where your child's desk is, nobody is expected to sit still very long, and there aren't any grades. You can put off worrying about those things for at least a year.

You'll probably want to ask the same questions you'd ask at any preschool meeting: how many kids are in the classroom? What's the routine like? Are there field trips? Do you want parents to volunteer? Is there a phone list to get the other parents' phone numbers? Do we send in snacks? Is it full day or half day?

Some preschool special ed classrooms are mixed -- they're all the special ed preschoolers in the district of a certain age. Some are just for kids with related disabilities, e.g. social and emotional delays, or autism. You can ask what your child's classmates will be like.

You can ask about transportation -- it's short bus time!

You're welcome to e-mail me if you have any questions.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:45 PM on June 5, 2008

The IEP meeting is suppose to be where the team discusses and programs an individualized education plan for your son, if he needs his education individualized because of a disability. You are a vital part of this team and your input is needed to help make up the plan. You might find some helpful general info on IEPs at
Good luck.
posted by maloon at 6:16 PM on June 5, 2008

You got a neurologist to give an ADD/ADHD diagnosis to a 4 year old? Seriously? Wowsers. I'd love to see that IEP.

IEP's generally just layout how the school will address the specific needs of your child. They SHOULD BE your friend. I always encourage parents to let their kids go Spec. Ed. and get the IEP, because it's specific legal recourse regarding what where and when your child will get the attention he/she needs. IEP's can mean special electronics or mobility aides, classroom aides and a whole host of other opportunities.

There are generally 2 components: educational and behavioral. The educational plan should outline the specific issues your child has with learning. The educational should outline SPECIFIC behaviors to encourage and specific behaviors to deal with, also HOW they will be dealt with. Example: "Brian will not use profanity. Brian will receive one warning, after which time his clip will be moved to Yellow. Another usage will result in his clip being moved to red and a timeout. Another usage will result in a principal consultation..." etc. This is where you are so vitally important.

I only have 2 big important tips for you:
1. The Spec Ed teacher is your FRIEND. BE NICE to them. Appreciate them and what they are tasked with doing and the relative impossibility of universal success. Be open and communicative, and DO NOT be defensive. There is waaaaay too much sugarcoating to parents, and the very best special ed teachers I know sugarcoat the least. Example of sugary: "Today Brian said a no-no word and he had to sit down for a little while." Non-sugary: "Today Brian told me to fuck off and die, and rather than explaining to him again why it's inappropriate to say those things, I placed him in time out for 15 minutes and did not allow him to return to that activity when it was over." A good Spec Ed teacher has seen it all, heard it all, and won't be surprized by anything you or your kid does or says. They will, however, cry tears of joy with you as your child overcomes her challenges.

2. GO TO EVERY MEETING. I know a BUNCH of kids whose parents haven't been to an IEP meeting since first or second grade and the kid's in middle school or high school. Don't be that parent.
posted by TomMelee at 7:41 PM on June 5, 2008

Also, "motor, visual, and language disorders" sounds like a preliminary diagnosis of Sensory Perception Disorder, which under the new guidelines is an Autism spectrum disorder. You don't often see SPD and ADD/ADHD under the same diagnosis---although I'm sure it happens I've never heard of it before.
posted by TomMelee at 7:44 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

TomMelee, the OP's situation might be like ours - the neurologist went with our descriptions of Son's behavior and gave him the autism diagnosis in order to get the ball rolling with the school district. He could have had private testing, but the district had all the same tests and would do it for free. He was 3 1/2 at the time.

Their official diagnosis was PDD-NOS, and a note to test him again in four years.
posted by lysdexic at 8:34 PM on June 5, 2008

Sorry--I didn't mean to make it sound like I thought the neurologist didn't know what he was talking about. I meant that *if* a 4 year old is getting this diagnosis then there definitely needs to be an early and good IEP with cooperation from the parents.
posted by TomMelee at 3:59 AM on June 6, 2008

My son had a diagnosis of ADHD when he was four, TomMelee, and so did some of his classmates. I don't think it's that unusual. I'm telling this not just because I'm overly chatty, but because I don't want the OP to freak out -- not about the diagnosis, and not about the upcoming IEP meeting.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:13 AM on June 6, 2008

I'd like to update my cheery answers above. For our last two schools, the IEP meetings were great. Now my son is at a new school, and we're in the middle of an ugly battle and have had to get lawyers involved.

I don't know if we were unusually lucky with the first two placements or unusually unlucky with the most recent one.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:31 PM on October 8, 2008

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