Special Education: How I Prepare for an IEP Meeting

Alethea Mshar
Special needs mom and Blogger
11/17/16  4:13 PM PST
IEP Meeting

You are the best advocate for your child’s special education services. All the same, an IEP meeting can be stressful and scary for parents and caregivers. This mom shares her tips for getting the most out of them to get the services your child needs.


Special Education: How I Prepare for an IEP Meeting

As a seasoned parent of two children who receive Special Education Services, I have learned almost everything by experience. When my children first started Special Education, I was ignorant of the process and my role in an IEP Meeting. I’ve learned by trial and error how to navigate the system, so I’m pleased to share what I’ve learned in hopes of easing the steep learning curve for others along the path.

  • You are part of a professional team. You are an equal member of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) team, and your input should be carefully considered, before, during and after the IEP meeting. I choose to dress in a professional manner at the meeting, and carry myself in a business-like manner. Although I am friends with many of the teachers that I have worked with, I focus on the task at hand, and wait until the meeting ends to exchange niceties.
  • Start with a pleasant tone. I like to use the “compliment sandwich” strategy at IEP meetings. That means I start and end the meeting with praise for the team. I find that people often rise to the occasion when you recognize their strengths. If I suspect the meeting will lead to tension, then I’m even more intentional about showing gratitude for the successes of the team.
  • Plan ahead. The team will ask you for your input at the IEP meeting, including concerns you want to see addressed. Make sure you have notes with you so that you remember anything you need to say at the meeting. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification of any terms or jargon that you aren’t familiar with. Have a pen and paper ready to jot notes about anything you need to look up later.
  • Contact the teachers and therapists before the meeting. Make sure to keep your child’s progress notes so that you know how s/he is progressing on goals, and think of what you would like to see for the next set of goals.
  • Stay calm. Sometimes parents ask me if they should be ready for a fight at their first IEP meeting. I suggest that you be ready to advocate and find solutions. There have been times that I’ve either stepped out to get a drink of water, or even ended the meeting early, without committing to anything, in order to stay calm. If the team suggests something that my gut says isn’t right, I have learned to stop and ask. If I don’t agree with the suggestion, I close the meeting so that I can find out what my child’s rights are. Whatever you do, avoid losing your temper or saying something you might regret.
  • Know the three most important terms.
    • FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education): Your child must have access to an appropriate education environment by the public school system.
    • LRE (Least Restrictive Environment): Each child has the right to be in mainstream classes to the extent that it is appropriate.
    • IDEA ( Individuals with Disabilities Act): Federal law for special education
  • Know your resources.
    •  Wrightslaw: Online information, books, local conferences – I attended one and would recommend it to any parent.
    • The Arc: Many local Arc offices have advocates that will work with you for free. They know the law, can give advice, and may even attend meetings with you.
  • If you don’t agree with the IEP, you have recourse. You can dispute an IEP that you believe is not right for your child. You have a window of time after the meeting in which you can ask to dispute the IEP, and you can request a meeting any time you have concerns about your child’s services.
  • Seek out your local community for others with your child’s diagnosis. Many parents are happy to share their experiences in order to help you along. Facebook pages or online groups are a great source of support.


There have been several times over the years of working with the Special Education team in which my children’s needs were not met appropriately. Each time, by following the advice I share here, I was able to advocate for my children to ensure a satisfactory result while maintaining a congenial relationship with all of the educators involved. I realize that is not possible 100% of the time, but my hope is that you enjoy great success in your journey as well.


More stories by Alethea Mshar:

Special Siblings of Children with Special Needs

How to Get a Second Opinion for Your Child with Special Needs

Self-Care for Parents of Children with Special Needs





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