Step-By-Step Guide for Preparing You and Your Child for IEP and 504 Meetings
The IEP or 504 meeting creates anxiety for many, if not most, parents. You might feel intimidated, overwhelmed by information and emotions and anxious. Whether it’s your first eligibility determination meeting to see if your child qualifies for accommodations or services, or your 10th annual meeting, many parents don’t sleep well the night before. (Individualized Education Programs (IEP’s) and 504 Plans are frequently confused. A 504 Plan is a document that typically details accommodations and modifications a student needs in order to have equal access to an education. An IEP could contain the same provisions as a 504 Plan but additionally details the individualized supports and services to be provided. Both are roadmaps for school personnel detailing the additional supports which allows a student with a disability to receive a free and appropriate public education.)
However, you can find comfort in that fact that the goal of the meeting is a collaborative and constructive team effort to identify your child’s needs and find ways to help support your child. This is your goal and the education team’s goal.
In the eyes of federal education law, the parent is a vital team member, but many parents don’t always feel like a vital or equal member. To be successful, you will need to develop skills and confidence that allow you to be an equal team member.
Challenges for Parents
- Recognizing your own expertise in your child, so you can share it with the team
- Using your emotions constructively
There are some challenges that often get in the way of a parents feeling confident. The first is that we may underappreciate our parental expertise. Sometimes parents come to a meeting and they count on the expert educators and clinicians to have a clear understanding of the challenges their child faces, and have all the answers and know what to do. Yes, while each team member has their area of expertise and will contribute their perspective, you also have expertise as the parent, and you need to come in with suggestions on how to best support your child based on your specialized knowledge of him or her.
The second challenge confronting many parents and reducing their confidence levels is that the meeting is a very emotional time for them and for some, the emotions may get in the way of working collaboratively and constructively with the team. That doesn’t mean you can’t show emotions. Many a parent has cried or their voices crack when describing to the team the difficulties their child is having, and that’s expected and totally natural. And it’s not uncommon to feel angry or frustrated during a meeting. But it does mean that you have to be mindful that you are being assertive rather than aggressive. You may need to be mindful of your nonverbal language—where you sit, how you sit, do you interrupt, acknowledge others, compliment when warranted, is your tone accusatory, demanding, etc.
These 2 challenges are interrelated: If you can recognize your expertise as a parent and have a plan for the meeting, that makes it much more likely that you will have a professional approach to the collaborative process and that you’ll be able to use your emotions constructively to keep the meeting focused on your child’s needs.
Enhancing Your Expertise
Attend A Workshop
You are already an expert at being the parent to your child, but now there are other areas in which you may need to further develop your expertise. First, you must familiarize yourself with the legal requirements of the team meeting process.
Especially if this is your first meeting, such as an initial eligibility determination meeting to see if your child qualifies for special education services (IEP) under IDEA or a 504 plan under ADA, you need to understand all the steps of the process from point a to b to c. You need to understand the difference between a 504 and IEP, which I won’t go into detail about here. There are several excellent introductory articles on this website to get you started.
You need to understand the evaluation process, the legal requirements that the school is obligated to follow, and your child’s legal rights. Do not count on the school district to keep you apprised of this information. It is your responsibility. This is not an overnight study session that you can cram for!
I highly recommend that you Attend a workshop. Most states have federally funded Parent Training and Information Centers that offer free workshops for parents to help you understand your legal rights and your role in the team meeting or get a parent handbook from your school or state education dept. These are typically written in more parent-friendly (and less “legalese”) language
Learn more about TS and how it might impact your child at school.
You know more about TS than anyone in the room, and part of your role during the meeting will be to educate the team. So educate yourself specifically about TS in the classroom and the helpful strategies that teachers or support staff can use to help your child.
Prior to meeting in which Evaluations will be discussed
- Request copy of evaluation
- Meet with Evaluator
- Highlight any areas you don’t understand
- Discuss areas of strength & weakness
- Ask how the weakness impact performance in class
- Ask for explanations:
- Each area of evaluation (Example, Processing Speed and how this impacts performance)
- Bring copy of Evaluation; post-it notes with notes indicating topic for quick reference
It’s important to understand what your child’s assessments mean. Click here for a full overview.
When you take an organized file to your child’s meeting you gain a sense of control. In addition to educating yourself on educational interventions for TS and the legal procedures of the meeting, one of the most effective things you can do to prepare for the meeting is get organized. When you take an organized file to your child’s meeting you gain a sense of control.
Begin by collecting all documentation pertaining to your child and make a binder. Get copies of your child’s evaluations, report cards, classroom observations. I also suggest you include email correspondence you’ve had with your child’s teachers, and classwork or homework samples.
Meet with evaluators before The “BIG Meeting Day” so they can help you understand the reports, which can be very technical, with lots of statistics and percentiles, and often need translation into layperson’s terms.
Once you’ve collected all these materials, create a master file organized by date, with the most recent documents on top. Tip: Very often reports are read and filed away, and not looked at again. As you review the master file, themes may emerge of what the ongoing challenges are for your child and what interventions and strategies have helped and what has not helped. For example, you may realize that the reading and writing difficulties your middle-schooler is having now are not new—kindergarten report cards that you haven’t read in years may have commented on writing difficulties that have persisted.
Many parents report that taking in this overview, or big picture, is a real educational experience for them, and may provide important data that the education team will need to consider. As you organize your child’s file you will develop a clearer understanding of their needs because you see the big picture.
What to Bring to the Meeting
Bring your organized binder to the meeting and make copies for team members. Do not rely on the education team to bring all the relevant information. Schools keep records in different places, and things get misplaced. How can the team make decisions without complete, accurate information? If you organize a binder for yourself, you’ll know where everything is and not be shuffling through papers.
Bring a PHOTO. There may be team members present who have not met your child personally. Bring a 5×7 or 8×10 photo of your child (on copy paper is fine). Put it in a frame in middle of the table, or insert it onto the cover of the binders you give to team members. Don’t choose a formal school portrait; select a photo of your child enjoying a hobby, an activity, or even with a sibling or family pet. This also reminds everyone of your child’s strengths, skills, talents, or interests. Which are very important to take into account at this meeting
Bring Tourette Syndrome available on this website. These may provide additional validation of the ideas you may have already been sharing as the expert parent. You may even want to highlight the parts of the articles most relevant to your child, so the team feels less overwhelmed by the amount of reading. In fact, giving them the whole binder containing this literature in advance is best, so the whole team comes prepared and there are no surprises.
Bring someone with you
Whether you anticipate an ‘easy’ meeting or not, Don’t go alone! It could be your partner, a grandparent, a trusted friend, or a fellow member of your TAA chapter. It’s helpful to have someone takes notes, or pass you notes with suggested questions, or just be there to ask educators to restate acronyms in plain English. Then you don’t have to be distracted by note-taking, and you will have someone else to aid you in remembering what was discussed.
Write an Agenda and bring it to the meeting. Typically, after everyone around the conference table has introduced themselves, the parent is invited to state their concerns. If it’s written down, your mind won’t go blank. It’s also easier to keep your emotions in check when you are reading off the agenda document, and if discussion goes astray, to bring the team back to focusing on your child’s needs that are written on the agenda. Again, I recommend that the agenda be the top page on your binder and that the team receives a copy of your agenda in advance of the meeting so they know what your concerns are and they can be prepared to address the agenda items. (See next section for suggested agenda items)
Your 4-item Agenda
- My child’s strengths
Example: Jim is artistic and loves to read. He has a good memory for facts and one of his hobbies is memorizing baseball statistics.
- Our frustrations and teacher’s frustrations with our child
Example: Jim is easily distracted and is disorganized. Teachers have emailed me to let me know that Jim has not turned in multiple assignments and homework, even when I know he has done the homework. Homework takes him a very long time and even though he wants to finish, he is often exhausted, frustrated, and gives up.
- Your child’s frustrations (in his or her words if possible)
- “I want to do well. Sometimes I do my homework but forget to turn it in, or if I remember to turn it in, I can’t find it! I try to hold in my tics because I don’t want my classmates to be distracted by my noises, but by the end of the day I can’t do it anymore and some kids give me dirty looks.”
- What My child needs. needs
- Example: Please understand that Tourette is a MEDICAL condition, and is often accompanied by ADHD.
- Jim is distractible and it helps him to sit in front of the class. Jim needs to be taught organizational skills.
- He needs your help and my help to keep track of materials and homework assignments. He needs a reduction in the hours he spends on homework. Jim easily spends 3 hours a night on homework.
- Jim needs the understanding and social acceptance of his peers. The local TSA chapter offers this training by their TS Youth Ambassadors.
- Accept our support. We appreciate your efforts and are here to help you in any way we can to support Jim.
- Source: Wright,Peter, & Pamela Darr Wright. From Emotions to Advocacy. Harbor House Law Press, Inc. 2nd 2006.
During the Meeting
Ask questions and check for understanding as often as you need to.
You can say “so it sounds like your saying that…” paraphrase back to them what you think you heard, and the team will either agree or correct you. This can stop miscommunications in its tracks before it takes on a life of its own.
Stop to Ask for interpretation of acronyms—Professionals use these terms so often they forget it’s a new language for the layperson. You’ll hear terms thrown around like FAPE, FERPA, LRE, IEE, FBA, PWN. See “Alphabet Soup.”
Be emotionally objective during the meeting. Being emotionally objective doesn’t mean you can’t be sad as you describe your child’s challenges, or disagree with someone’s suggestion. As parents, we often bring lot’s of emotions with us into that meeting room: we bring worry, fear, shock, anger, guilt, sadness. But if you can recognize this going in, you can transform the energy of your emotions into a positive search for information and solutions. Being emotionally objective doesn’t mean you can’t be sad as you describe your child’s challenges, or disagree with someone’s suggestion.
It does mean that:
- You attend the meeting intending to collaborate with the team
- You are prepared and informed
- You analyze problems
- You express yourself clearly
- You demonstrate self-confidence
- You are not intimidated
- You are positive and persistent
- You have pride
- You encourage others and hold people accountable
- You acknowledge the help others are giving your child
- You demonstrate your willingness to partner with the school
To elaborate, being “Emotionally Objective” means that you come into the meeting with the intention to collaborate with the team. Have an idea before you get to the meeting of what you might be willing to compromise on and what things you will hold your ground on because they are just too important for your child. Always keep in mind that meeting your child’s needs is the primary goal. The goal is not to win a power struggle with the team.
It’s easier to stay emotionally objective if you come prepared and informed, as I discussed in more detail in Part 1. If you are organized, then you will feel empowered and be more able to be objective.
During the meeting, you should have the information in front of you that you need to analyze problems.
During the meeting, it helps to use an agenda that you read off, to express yourself clearly and come across as self-confident. A sample agenda was included in part 1 of this presentation
Disagree clearly but respectfully, for example instead of “You have FAILED to perform any observation of my daughter before developing the IEP” you might instead say “I’m very concerned about the relevance of that IEP goal, because we have no objective data about her progress in that area.” Notice the use of the pronoun ‘WE”… we have no objective data.
Just as you’d like the education team to recognize your child’s strengths, not just his weaknesses, and incorporate that into a plan, as a parent, it helps to use the same strategy with the education team. “Ms. Smith’s extra help and attention that she gives to Jonny first thing in the morning, helping him organize his materials and previewing the day’s schedule with him, has worked wonders. He rarely forgets to turn in homework now, and tells me that he really likes working with Ms. Smith and would like that to continue.” Compliments and encouragement really do work, and at the same time it holds the education team accountable to continue employing the strategies that are effective for your child.
Demonstrate your willingness to partner with the school . “And I will help Jonny pack up his homework folder at night, and it would be useful if Ms. Smith and I could check in with eachother regularly about Jonny’s progress, maybe every other week, by phone or email, which ever she prefers.”
Goal of the Meeting
Remember, the goal is a collaborative and constructive team effort to identify your child’s needs and find ways to help support your child. Be aware that educators are not taught about Tourette Syndrome or even about many of the related disorders. This is an opportunity for you to educate people in a manner that doesn’t embarrass anyone at the meeting. If there is an area with which your child particularly struggles, such as written expression, bring articles from this website’s resource library that addresses that topic, and even highlight the paragraphs that are most relevant for your child. In our experience, the team wants to help, and they are open to parent’s input on how to help.
Preparing Your Child for a 504/IEP Meeting
IDEA clearly provides for the child’s inclusion in, and participation on, the IEP Team whenever appropriate. Specifically, IDEA:
- provides that the public agency must include the child with a disability at the IEP meeting “whenever appropriate, and
- requires that the child be invited to attend the meeting “if the purpose of the meeting will be the consideration of the postsecondary goals for the child and the transition services needed to assist the child in reaching those goals” [§300.320(b)].
Your child is allowed to participate, but as a parent you must decide if he or she should. Only the parent has the authority to make educational decisions for the child under Part B of the Act, including whether the child should attend an IEP meeting. (71 Fed. Reg. at 46671) (source: NICHCY). Though in reality, it’s usually a shared decision between parent and child.
Benefits of a Child Participating in 504/IEP Meeting
When your child attends a meeting, the rest of the team sees him or her as a KID – not just a case! Participation in meeting also hones and develops self-advocacy skills and other life skills:
- Goal setting
- Teamwork and negotiation to resolve disagreements
- Understanding their strengths and weaknesses
- Asking for and accept help
- Express their concerns
- Feel their opinion is valid and respected
Helping your Child Prepare
- Draft agenda with him. Agenda should include:
- My strengths
- My challenges and weaknesses
- My frustrations and my teachers’ frustrations
- What I need, what would make things easier for me, what helps me
- PRACTICE! Practice what he should say if he disagrees with a suggestion—(e.g.“it sounds good, but I don’t think it would work for me because…”)
- Ask your child to prep a portfolio of his work.
- Include samples that reflect talent or strengths (eg art, math, creative writing, a powerpoint) and work that reflects the challenges he’s having (eg, incomplete in time given, sloppy handwriting, etc)
Common Concerns about Children Participating in Meetings
Is My Child Too Young?
Even elementary schoolers can participate and by middle school, their participation for part or whole should be strongly encouraged. Again, in high school, many states require attendance for transition planning unless parent determines that participation not recommended, for child under 18
My Child is Not Willing
Ask them if there is something they want you to share with team. They could even put it in writing for you to bring and read.
After the meeting, relate what you shared and the relevant goals the team discussed. Validate the importance of their participation by proxy.
The Meetings are Too Stressful
If you think meeting is too stressful, they can come for beginning to introduce themselves and read agenda, leave during contentious discussion, and then return to give their feedback on team recommendations.
I’ve Never Taken My Child Before
- Introduce the idea weeks (or months) before.
- Explain the meeting procedures.
- NICHCY (National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities) has a student guide to the IEP, available in audiobook too.
- Student should be familiar with his 504/IEP document
- Go over the current 504/IEP—does he think he’s made progress toward his goals? Why? What’s worked and what hasn’t. eg accommodations, services