Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are defined as written plans outlining a program designed to meet the unique needs of one child. Walking into an IEP meeting prepared will help you and the school design the best plan for your child. Children with autism have distinctive needs, and in your role as an advocate for your child you can help school personnel understand what accommodations will be most successful in supporting your child’s strengths and weaknesses.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide a free and appropriate education to any child, including children with disabilities. If your child qualifies for an IEP, their school support team will convene to make a written plan to determine what special services they will receive in school to support their academic and socio-emotional growth. IEP meetings are intended to help your child receive the best education possible, but they can be a little intimidating. Below are some steps you can take prior to an IEP meeting to go in feeling prepared to advocate for your child and actively partner with their school.
- Understand What Type of IEP Meeting You are Attending
There are several types of meetings parents can request and be requested to attend. Below are some of the possible types. As a parent, you can request an IEP meeting to review your child’s progress in school at any time.
Common Types of IEP Meetings
- Initial IEP Meeting - The purpose of an initial IEP meeting is to determine whether your child is eligible, or qualifies, for an Individualized Education Plan. During this meeting, your child’s support team will review any specialized testing that’s been done, review interventions that have been given to him or her at school so far, and share recommendations for steps moving forward. If you do not agree with the recommendations being made, you have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at no cost to you. This is basically like getting a second opinion, and some families find that very helpful depending on the results of initial evaluation.
- Annual Review Meeting - Review meetings are held at least once a year to discuss your child’s progress and the interventions they’re receiving at school. Your child’s entire school support team should attend this meeting, and it is a good opportunity to evaluate and make changes to your child’s IEP.
- Three Year Review Meeting - Every three years, your child’s school support team will meet to reevaluate his or her need for special education services, evaluate progress made so far, and discuss the next three years of special education. School personnel should work with you in advance to determine what evaluations need to be done or redone in advance of the meeting.
- Early Start IEP Transition Meeting - If your child is already considered qualified for special education services through Early Intervention (EI) program, his or her school team will have an Initial IEP meeting upon arrival in kindergarten. Public schools must honor the fact that a child has been determined eligible for services through Early Intervention, and this meeting may not be used to determine eligibility, only to write and discuss an Individualized Learning Plan (IEP). You or the school, however, may request additional evaluation or follow up testing to help inform what the kindergarten IEP should look like.
- Request and Review Specialist Evaluations in Advance
During any type of IEP meeting, but especially at initial meetings and Three Year Reviews, your child’s school or you may request evaluations to be done by outside specialists to determine his or her needs in school. Because these tests are performed by experts and can test a variety of skills socially, academically, and neurologically, they can be extremely detailed and confusing to understand.
However, you can request to see the results of evaluations in writing prior to your child’s IEP meeting, giving you time to sit down and read through them. Additionally, if the evaluator has not included recommendations for the IEP based on their evaluations, or if the language is too jargony to understand, you can ask the specialist to clarify what they meant. IEP meetings can feel rushed because there is so much to cover, and taking the time to review these materials in advance can help you feel prepared to problem-solve with your child’s teacher in the moment and ensure that as much time as possible during the IEP meeting itself is spent designing a well thought out plan for your child’s next 1-3 school years.
- Organize Additional Paperwork
Over the course of your child’s time in school, you will receive multiple types of data to help you determine how well their services are working. It can be helpful to bring in report cards, teacher comments, your own observations of your child, and any information provided to you by an external therapist or pediatrician.
- Communicate with School Personnel Prior to the Meeting
You may find it helpful to meet in person or speak on the phone with your child’s general education and/or special education teacher prior to an IEP meeting. This conversation gives parents and teachers the opportunity to set an agenda for the meeting, understand what is going to happen, and ensure time with the full school support team is used as strategically as possible.
- Partner With a Special Education Advocate
IEP meetings can be challenging to navigate for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, schools and caregivers feel completely aligned on how a student is progressing, which interventions are working and which need to be tweaked, and what next steps should be. This can lead to a productive and efficient meeting in which everyone feels heard. Other times, schools and caregivers can feel misaligned, or caregivers can feel uninformed and unheard. In cases like the latter, it can be very helpful to work with a Special Education Advocate who specializes in attending meetings and helping in communication between parents and school teams. To find a Special Education Advocate you can ask other parents you know or connect with a disabilities group in your area.
- Be Aware of Possible Autism-Specific Accommodations
When you attend your child’s IEP meeting, the support team will likely discuss proposed accomodations to your student’s school day. Accommodations are tools and procedures educators use in class that allow children with special needs to have equal access to instruction. Just as no student with special needs is the same, no IEP is the same, and accommodation recommendations will vary from child to child. However, there are some general, research-based accommodations for autism that you may want to be aware of prior to meeting with your child’s school. Below is a list of sample accommodations you may hear an IEP team suggest, or want to advocate for yourself, for a child with autism:
- Visual instructions for assignments
- Daily schedules
- Positive behavior support strategies. For example, see Positive Interactions Puzzle
- Social skills supports in class
- Breaking larger tasks into smaller segments
- Helping the student create and use an individualized organization system
- Previewing changes to daily routines, curriculum, etc
- Providing a low-distraction workplace for test completion
- Use of noise cancelling headphones during independent work time in class
- Use of voice recognition software for typing or writing assignments
- Graphic organizers
- Visual charts to break down concepts
- Alarm reminders. For example, see Time Timers.
- Limited visual clutter
- High contrast material
Resources for Learning More About Special Education Laws and Contact Advocates