If your child differs from the norm, if they need help with language, reading, writing, math, sensory issues, etc. If they are different, their teachers may suggest an IEP. An IEP is a legal document that set different goals and objectives for your child. In addition to, or instead of, the state or national standards, your child will be working on certain goals and objectives that pertain to their particular needs.
A bit intimidating, isn’t it?
But it needn’t be. If you’re confident in your school, and in the special education staff (which you should be–I’m a huge proponent of school of choice!), then an IEP is nothing to worry about. First, make sure you trust everybody. Shop around, if need be. I actually took a personal day last year and visited two preschool programs. Talk to other parents. The most important thing is selecting staff and a program that you trust. This will make every part of the process easier. It’s a lot of work, but worth it.
Once you’ve done that, it’s testing time. Go with your kid, if possible! We learned a lot from going to the speech, PT, and OT testing. Let them know if you’re doing private therapy, because sometimes they can just use those evaluations. And, by all means, sign the paperwork so that the school therapists can talk to the private therapists. Beanie’s school OT touches base with her private OT a couple times a year.
Then, it’s time for the meeting. Take a look at your state’s IEP form in advance. The school should have provided you with the parent handbook and procedural safeguards by this point, so take a look at those. Feel free to talk to someone if you find the legalese confusing. If you don’t know a teacher, talk to Community Mental Health or a parent organization such as CAUSE. Meeting with someone to help you articulate your concerns will be a great help. Also, let your child’s case manager know your concerns ahead of time. This will help them in writing the IEP, and it will allow them to do some research, if need be, before the meeting. Sometimes parents will tell me concerns before the meeting, and I will forward them to my administrators, so that they can figure out our options. With Beanie, I let her team know right away last year that I wasn’t interested in Extended School Year, because we would be on the boat. This year, I’ve discussed doing an extra year of preschool with her teachers, so they will write the IEP accordingly. Do as much as you can before the actual event.
If you’ve not done any other testing or therapy, the initial IEP will hit you like a ton of bricks. It is the job of the school employees to document exactly WHY your child needs special education services. The focus is on the negative, and how far behind your child is. And it’s not their fault. That’s the law. But forewarned is forearmed. We had done a year of private therapy, so there weren’t many surprises at Beanie’s initial. Still, it caught me off guard to hear that my 3-year-old was functioning at a 18 month old level in speech. Yup. It gets more positive from there on out.
Feel free to invite a helper to the meeting. A lot of families bring someone from Community Mental Health. They may be able to help you through the legalese.
They will talk about goals and objectives at the meeting. These will sound incredibly far-fetched, but keep in mind that they have a year to accomplish them. I remember thinking “good luck!” at Beanie’s IEP. And now, she’s met most of her goals.
If anything doesn’t sit well with you, speak up. And, if you think something is missing, speak up as well. I noticed that Beanie did not have a sensory diet at school, so they added that. When she’s in kindergarten, she will not have credit/no credit, because I want her to get used to actually doing her work. You are a member of the team.
Feel free to ask questions. We’re so used to the process, that we skim over parts (I have a special ed director right now who will back us up and explain things to parents, but not every school has that!). Nobody will think you’re stupid. Involved parents get a ton of respect, and they will probably be glad you asked questions.