Tips for Parents Heading into Their Child's IEP Meeting

The IEP process can be stressful and overwhelming for parents of children with disabilities. Here are some tips on how to effectively handle meetings.

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I remember walking into my first IEP meeting for my daughter before she entered kindergarten six years ago. It was a small room filled with many unfamiliar faces around a large conference table. I took my seat feeling anxious and unsure amongst the administrators, supervisors, therapists, and teachers that sat around me.

When the meeting began, my husband and I listened to a group of strangers talk about our daughter. We heard phrases like "below average" and "very low." We listened to a slew of numbers detailing how standardized assessments rated our "non-standard" child. We listened to all the ways she was not keeping up with her same-age peers.

I was caught off guard by how hard it was to listen to the IEP team members talk about the evaluation results. I didn't recognize the little girl they described. It was gut-wrenching. The little person that was being explained with scores and percentile rankings was not the little person I knew. I was shocked at how these reports could be missing so many of her strengths and the wonderful characteristics she possessed. Things like her emotional intelligence with an innate ability to understand how anyone was feeling. Like the fact that she was able to communicate her needs and wants effectively despite her significant language delays. Like how she loved people and worked hard and wanted to make others proud.

It was in this meeting that I realized what an important job I had moving forward. I would need to be the one to fight for my child to make sure that the people around every table really knew her. I would need to use my voice to educate others about who my child is and of all the things that she is capable. I would need to work diligently as part of the IEP team to make sure my daughter received what she needed.

An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is a plan created for a child with disabilities to ensure they have the instruction, supports, and services they need to succeed in school. (Note that IEPs only apply to public schools; they do not cover private schools). IEPs are covered under the federally-mandated Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which is a "law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children." Children must be evaluated to see if they are eligible for an IEP.

My daughter was born with multiple medical issues which led to developmental delays. These things make it necessary for her to receive certain educational accommodations, modifications, and services (such as speech therapy) to allow her to have the same access to educational materials and instruction as other students. These things help "level the playing field" between her and her typically developing peers.

Note that children born with medical issues that lead to developmental delays under the age of 3 qualify for a federally-mandated program called Early Intervention. Early Intervention provides special education services to infants and toddlers.

IEPs are necessary for some children with disabilities to ensure that they are successful in school, but for parents of children with IEPs it can sometimes feel overwhelming. Along with the emotional toll the process can take on parents, there is so much to learn about special education and what rights families have when it comes to their child. It can be stressful and confusing.

Based on my experience of attending years of these meetings and reading countless evaluation reports, here is my advice for parents heading into an IEP meeting:

Take deep breaths.

The IEP team is made up of educators and the parents. It can be intimidating to sit across from so many teachers, administrators, and school representatives, but your part in this meeting is equally—if not more—important than theirs. Never underestimate the value of your role on your child's IEP team. The IEP team is also known as the school-based support team (SBST) and can involve an occupational therapist, speech therapist, physical therapist, school psychologist, social worker, and special educator.

Be prepared.

Know what you want for your child and what questions you have. What would you like to see when it comes to your child's education? What goals do you have for them? A short-term goal could be anything from mastering a certain math concept to being able to pack and unpack their book bag independently. Long-term goals could include where you would like to see your child after high school. Nothing is too big or too small for discussion. This is your chance to address your concerns.

Speak up.

You know your child best, and no one knows the ins and outs of their capabilities like you do. Advocate for them. Let the people around the table see what you see in your child.


Most people at the IEP meetings will be well-meaning. It is so easy to get caught up in an "us vs. them" mindset, especially if you have had bad experiences at IEP meetings in the past. Try to go in with an open mind. This will help you, too. I promise.

Stand your ground.

You will never regret advocating too hard for your child, but you will regret agreeing to something that you're not comfortable with. Trust your gut as a parent. Remember, IEPs can be amended at any point. If something is not working for your child, the team can meet again at your request to discuss changes.

Bring support.

As I mentioned, meetings can sometimes feel confusing or overwhelming. You have the right to bring a special education advocate to help figure out what your child needs if something is not working or if you feel your voice is not being heard.

It's OK to cry.

There's no shame in letting your humanness show. You are discussing big issues regarding your child's schooling and future. You are hearing things that may be difficult to hear and fighting for your child with all your heart. Tears may come. Feel your feelings and keep moving forward.

Take care of yourself.

IEP meetings are emotional roller coasters. You will probably be exhausted afterwards. Remember this is a normal response to a stressful situation. Take some time for yourself, call a friend to debrief, and be kind to yourself. You have a hard job, and you are doing great.

Above all, remember that you are the expert on your child. I would argue that you are the most important person sitting at their IEP meeting. Feel confident in knowing that your input is invaluable in creating the best program for your child.

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