In part one of this article, we covered the first three Things to Do before Your Next IEP meeting. The important first question is “Where do you want to go?” I asked you to sit down and write out what you want for your child — both your big dreams for their futures as well as what you would like to see in the next year. With that list in hand, it’s time to address the next question to ask before you go to your child’s next IEP meeting.
Next, ask yourself: “What are your child’s biggest obstacles to reaching these goals?”
For many students on IEPs, communication is a big factor along with self-regulation and executive functioning skills. Try to see your child objectively for this part of the process, and analyze what barriers are impeding his or her access to school and sense of belonging and worthiness. Does your son have examples of his work on the wall, like all the other kids? Is his desk organized (or should you ask him to go through it with you or the teacher)? Does he know what he is supposed to do throughout the day? Can he get his thoughts on paper or does he end up erasing it until it is full of holes? It may be clear that he has challenges that impede his full participation in class, but start thinking about which ones are areas that the adults around him can change (such as giving him a second desk against a wall so he can work with fewer distractions).
The third question to ask yourself is “What are my priorities?” From your perspective as a parent and the expert on your child, what do you think are the top 2 or 3 things that school can address? Could they make sure she has her homework with her before leaving school? And could they actually check if she turns it in? Maybe she needs to be told ahead of time about new projects so that she has time to process and not freak out at how much work she has to do.
While communication is the key to collaboration, setting goals is the key to students’ success. One thing I do with my daughter is consider where we want her to be when she graduates from high school, and work backwards from there (this is what I asked you to do in the first part of the article). Our vision for her to be a contributing, loved, and valued part of her community as an adult is the focus for all her goals. That means that some goals may be about life skills such as managing her clothing and belongings. Most of my daughter’s, though, are focused on her ability to communicate and express herself since she has severe articulation issues. The team coordinates between the teachers and specialists to give her lots of practice, such as using her literacy goals as the foundation for her speech goals. We look at her as a whole person and design her IEP goals to support her personal growth in all areas.
I believe that the IEP process should be an ongoing collaborative process between the school, parents and the child/teen. When my daughter was little, we did the IEP without her, though it was about her. But I started sharing the IEP goals with her when she was in 3rd grade, adding more information as she was able to understand it. Now, she prepares her comments prior to the annual IEP meeting and shares her thoughts with the team. It took years, but now I advocate WITH my daughter with the goal of supporting her becoming a self-determined adult. As an 8th grader, she is involved in clubs, school plays, after-school activities and is making great academic progress. She is becoming a self-advocate, engaged in her community. The IEP process works for her and with her.