Have you recently started the special education process? Do you have a meeting with the school coming up? We’ve compiled tips on how to stay organized, with some added Parent Pointers from ELI’s Julie McIsaac. (You can find the pointers in italics after each section!)
Create an IEP binder
Wherever you are in the process, you probably already have lots of paperwork. Get a 3-ring binder to make sure you can easily find the documents you need, and also so you have one central location to store new papers as you receive them. Put a photo of your child in the front sleeve so everyone on the team has a constant reminder of who is at the heart of your discussions and decisions.
Parent Pointer: Set yourself up for success by adding inserts with pockets into your binder. (For those times you don’t have a three-hole punch with you!) I take mine with me to assessments or school meetings. Whenever I have a document worth referencing, in it goes! This way I’m able to keep track of the therapy progress note that marked a milestone or a report that I will be asked to make copies of. Divide your binder into categories that make sense to you based on the information you are organizing for your child. Organizing documents in chronological order is helpful for quick reference and telling your story.
Request a copy of the draft IEP
Always request a copy of the draft IEP before your meeting so you can review it and come up with a list of questions to address during the meeting. We can’t guarantee that the school will provide it, but you should always ask. If you’ve asked but haven’t received anything, follow up with your school contact or your child’s teacher. If you can’t get a copy of your child’s IEP, find a copy of a blank IEP form from your district so you can get familiar with the form.
Parent Pointer: Print out a blank IEP and take a deep breath. If this is your first IEP, it can be overwhelming and confusing. Don’t worry, we can walk through it together. Start here as you think about Preparing a Vision and Goals for Your Child’s IEP and how to define measurable goals. It does not need to be pretty. Get a blank document and mark it up with notes as you go!
Request and review documents and write down any questions you have
You can also request copies of evaluations, testing, and other documents that will help you better participate in the meeting. Be sure to file these documents in your IEP binder for easy access! Take some time to look through the evaluation reports, progress reports, draft IEP, and anything else you have from the school district. If you have other evaluations you’ve paid for on your own or progress reports from outside tutoring or other providers, look through those too. As you’re going through, keep a list of questions and concerns that you’d like to address at the meeting, and put it neatly into your IEP binder! There are lots of terms and acronyms in the special education world. Don’t be afraid to ask the district to explain anything you don’t understand.
Parent Pointer: As your binder fills up, your history is told via documents and therapy notes. I encourage you to take a minute and reflect on your and your child’s story. If you like to write, start writing. Ask questions, reflect on what works and what doesn’t, or take note of what is most meaningful to your child and your family. Add this document to your binder. You are the one that takes the information from all of the individual providers and you and your child bring it to life. You are the expert about your child!
Get a copy of the IEP notes before you leave the meeting
Someone from the school district will be taking notes during the meeting, either by hand or on a computer. Ask for a copy of those notes and take them with you before you leave the meeting. Once you get home, review the notes and make sure they are an accurate representation of the conversations you had during the meeting. If you find anything that should be corrected, follow up with the school or the person who led the IEP meeting.
Parent Pointer: This is where those binder pockets come in handy! Ask for a copy and insert those notes into your binder. I find it helpful to send a follow up email to the team to review the notes. This ensures everyone is on the same page and next steps are clear to all.
Think big about your child’s future
Regardless of your child’s age, think big and work with the team to establish goals that your child can work towards throughout his or her years in the school district. Work with the team to create the most appropriate academic environment that will allow your child to flourish. The sky is the limit!
Parent Pointer: My advice here is to keep high expectations and always presume competence. Assume your child can do something before you assume they cannot and encourage this mentality among your team. Our children will surprise us, but we need to let them.