This article was contributed by Nancy LaCross, ASNC Autism Resource Specialist in the Raleigh area and mother of an adult son with autism.
The Autism Society of North Carolina has 18 Autism Resource Specialists serving all 100 counties in our state. We receive phone calls from parents and professionals about lots of issues, but the most common calls are related to IEPs, or Individualized Education Programs.
After 17 years of advocating for my own special needs child in three school systems, I learned a lot about myself, my child, working as a team, and the IEP process. When my son entered public school at the age of 3, I was totally overwhelmed by his diagnoses, his future, everyday life, school, therapies, and the IEP process. It took me about 10 years of advocating for my son to finally begin to put the pieces together regarding the IEP process.
As one parent to another, I would like to share with you my top tips, myths, and facts about the IEP process.
- Educate yourself about the IEP process. (Find more resource links at the end of this article.)
- I highly recommend that families read the IEP Toolkit available on ASNC’s website.
- Attend IEP workshops sponsored by ASNC, Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center (ECAC) or Wrightslaw.
- Read special education books and resource guides available from the ASNC Bookstore, the ECAC lending library, the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) website, and the ASNC website.
- Read “The Procedural Safeguards: Handbook on Parents’ Rights” from the DPI
- Prepare for IEP meetings.
- Write down your top three to five parent concerns and let this serve as your agenda for the meeting.
- Write down your vision for your child’s future (after high school). To the maximum extent possible, also write down your child’s hopes and dreams for his or her future after high school.
- Review the most recent evaluation, current IEP and progress reports.
- Participate in the IEP meeting.
- Attend IEP meetings.
- Stay focused on your child.
- Use present skill levels and current evaluations to guide you in creating goals.
- Treat all team members with respect.
- Ask questions of the team, and then together create solutions.
- Take the emotion out of the situation! (As a mom, I know this is difficult if not impossible.) To the maximum extent possible, focus on the needs of your child during an IEP meeting. Use present levels and evaluations to show the needs of your child. Use phrases like “my child requires x, y, z based on this professional evaluation” instead of statements like “I want my child to have this in the IEP.”
- Advocate for your child throughout the entire school year.
- The IEP team can meet more than once a year if changes are needed.
- Families can schedule teacher conferences throughout the school year to review information.
- Communicate with your child’s teacher by phone, email, or communication log as needed.
- After an informal school meeting or phone conversation, follow up with an email. In this email, thank the person for his or her time and then give a brief recount of the meeting, including who will do what and by when.
Myths and Facts:
Myth: If I bring an advocate to the IEP meeting, then that person will make the school do what I want for my child.
Fact: If you bring an advocate or another person with you to the IEP meeting, then this person will be another member of the IEP team. The IEP team needs to work together to create an Individualized Education Program that provides a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). Please keep in mind that the word appropriate is not defined by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Appropriate does not mean best.
Myth: If I communicate lots of information to the school, then my child’s needs will be better met.
Fact: Concise communication to the school staff may be better received then lengthy correspondence.
Myth: If I threaten to sue the school, then the school will do what I want.
Fact: For most families, this tactic has backfired. It may be more effective to work together with the IEP team to create an appropriate IEP for your child. If there are challenges then I would encourage you to identify the issue. (Often times when families connect with me they struggle to pinpoint the issue.) Some examples of issues might be the following:
- The IEP does not reflect the needs of your child and it needs to be updated
- The IEP is well written but not implemented
- The student is not making progress on the IEP goals
- There is a personnel issue with the school staff
Myth: If you are the perfect advocate for your child, then your child will be successful in school.
Fact: Unfortunately, even if you are a perfect advocate for your child, there still may be challenges along the way. But if you read the four tips above, you will feel more confident in your abilities to advocate for your child, and you will have the knowledge to address these challenges.
The ASNC Autism Resource Specialists are all parents of children on the spectrum. Each of us has personal experience navigating the world of IEPs. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s IEP, then please feel free to contact the Autism Resource Specialist (ARS) serving your county. Find one near you on our website.
- IEP Toolkit
- ASNC workshops (description and schedule). Here are some upcoming IEP-related workshops: IEP Basics: Frequently Asked Questions webinar on Aug. 26 and The IEP Process: Building Success for Your Child at School on Aug. 20 in Sylva; on Aug. 27 in Asheville; on Sept. 23 in Raleigh
- ASNC Bookstore
- ASNC Guide to NC Resources
- Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center (ECAC)
- NC Department of Public Instruction
Here are some titles we recommend from the ASNC Bookstore:
- Wrightslaw: All About IEPS
- Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy: the Special Education Survival Guide
- Wrightslaw: Special Education Law
- Autism: Asserting Your Child’s Right to a Special Education
- IEP from A to Z: How to Create Meaningful and Measurable Goals and Objectives
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
Nancy LaCross can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-865-5093.
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