This is a tool every parent can use -- whether you're a writer or not. It's cheaper than a lawyer or advocate and really sets the stage to have your child's needs met. In the first part of this little tutorial, I'm going to show you how to gather and organize the information you will need to begin writing your response. In part 2, I'll give you examples from my response and a template to help you get started.
1. Attend the IEP Meeting and JUST LISTEN
Taking this approach to the meeting really reduced the stress of the whole event for me. Rather than trying to fight out every point as it was introduced, I told myself to keep my mouth shut and listen. I took notes and made sure I understood all the team's plans -- then told the team that I would like to take a few days to review the IEP at home with my husband.
- Listen, listen, listen.
- Take notes (if you're not a good note taker, ask in advance if you can tape record the meeting).
- Do not sign the IEP at the meeting. Tell the team you want to take the document home for review. Keep in mind, however, that some IEPs can be automatically implemented within a certain number of days after the IEP meeting -- even if you don't sign the document. The clock is ticking!
2. Identify General Areas of Concern & Related Goals
Look at your child's education from 50,000 feet. What are the general areas where you have the most concern for your child's progress? Does he struggle with academics? Are social skills an area of weakness?
Ideally, your areas of concern will match up with specific goals on the IEP. If your child struggles with developing the appropriate social skills to handle school situations, there should be at least one goal on the IEP to work on those skills.
This part of the process is going to frame the outline for your response. Write down each concern and the goal(s) associated with it -- like this:
- Identify areas of concern
- Determine which goals address areas of concern
- Make a list (outline) of concerns and goals
3. Review Progress & Current Strategies
Drag out your child's progress reports and get a clear understanding of how/if progress has been made in the areas of concern during the past year. For example, in the area of self help, I was able to refer to our recent ETR and see that most of my daughter's fine motor skills were in the 3 1/2 year-old age range (she is 5). Given the gap, this was information I definitely wanted to include in my response.
I also looked at the number of minutes of occupational therapy my daughter receives per week and how fine motor skills were being reinforced in the classroom between OT sessions.
- Review previous IEPs, progress reports, and other evaluations to get a picture of where your child is with skills in the areas of concern.
- Make note of specific examples that highlight your concerns.
4. Consider New Challenges
With each passing school year, our children will grow and face new challenges -- maybe not at the same pace as their peers, but new challenges will come. In my daughter's case, the transition to kindergarten will present new challenges for her personal care. I worry whether she will be able to quickly ramp up the skills to handle the lunch room, toileting, even changing to her gym shoes for PE -- especially in light of her fine motor weaknesses.
Review the goals set out by the IEP team in light of the challenges you expect your child to face during the course of the next school year. Do the goals and objectives address these challenges? Are supports and accommodations in place to help your child meet the goals?
- Think about challenges that lie ahead for your child.
- Do the goals and objectives on the IEP address these challenges?
- Are there supports and accommodations in place to help your child meet the goals?
5. Brainstorm Solutions
By now, you should have a pretty good outline of the topics you'll address in your response. If we look back at my example, I've determined that one of my key concerns for my daughter is her self-help ability. Self-help is addressed in her IEP with goals #3 and #4 (fine motor goals that focus on handwriting and cutting with scissors), but based on my daughter's current fine motor skills (similar to a 3 1/2 year-old), I have serious concerns that she will be able to care for herself during the school day.
We proposed a multi-sided solution to work with this concern, including para-professional support, additional OT minutes, additional repetitions and reinforcement of fine motor tasks, and help with fasteners, clothing, etc., until she has mastered these items. We did not get all of the items we proposed, but the IEP team was grateful for our proposed solutions and attempted to work in as much as possible.
- Review the information you have collected up to this point and brainstorm solutions. You may not get everything you ask for, but some of the solutions may not have been considered by the IEP team.
6. Get Ready to Write
It's time to sit down in front of the computer and write your response. Tomorrow, in part 2 of this tutorial, I'll show you how to structure your document and give you some examples of how we discussed different concerns for our daughter.
- Check back tomorrow for Part 2!