Tips: How to get the most out of IEP or IFSP team membership

An IEP or IFSP is the central service plan for a child with a disability.  It lays out the child's strengths and needs, what services the child will receive, how much of each service, where services will be provided, goals and expected progress, and how those goals will be measured. Thus, you would be hard pressed to name any single activity more important to success for a child with a disability than IEP or IFSP creation.  Parents are full members of the IEP/IFSP teams and have the right to participate in all decisions.  But having a right to participate isn't the same thing as being an effective team participant.  So here are a few tips for parents:

(1)  Learn about the process and your role in it.  Empowerment begins with knowledge.  Knowing what your roles, rights, and responsiblities are as a member of the team will help you secure the respect of other team members and set the foundation for mutual exchange of expertise and information.  There are significant free resources available in print, online, and in the form of trainings.  Parent training & information centers and parent to parent organizations are great places to start.
(2) Assert, recognize, and exchange expertise.  Parents are experts on their child.  Professionals are experts on methods for evaluation and services.  While I would encourage parents to learn as much as they can on their own about their child's disability and available treatments, often time and resources limit the ability of parents to do so.  Similarly, while every professional should try to really get to know the individual children they serve, their opportunities to do so are often limited.   So parents need to help professionals understand their child and professionals need to actively help parents understand their child's disability and various services that are used to address their needs (not just the one that they want to provide).  Parents should feel confident in expressing their own opinions, and also both recognize the expertise that other team members have and learn from them.
(3)  Prepare for the meeting.  Organize your thoughts and think about what issues are most important to you.  Think out how you will communicate your thoughts on these issues and try to base your thoughts on observations, outcomes, and other convincing evidence.  If the evidence convinced you of the importance of an issue or the effectiveness of an approach, it may well do the same for others.  If not, they will still need to explain why they do not share your view.
(4)  Actively participate in the discussions.  Your membership on the team won't be fruitful unless you share your knowledge, expertise, and opinions.  If you don't understand part of a discussion, don't be afraid to ask others to explain it.  Share your ideas, doubts, and hopes with the group; let them know your expectations.  Do not feel rushed, or let others rush you or bypass you, in the conversation.  Your perspectives must be considered and that should include giving you the necessary time and background information to be able to form an opinion on any matter discussed that is important to you.  But be sure to focus on what issues are most important to you--don't make every minor decision a battle.  Be clear about your expectations, request what you want, and ask why other team members believe as they do or how you will know months from now if the decisions made were the correct ones.
(5)  Be Cool, Calm, & Collected.   Getting angry, holding grudges, digging up past offenses, or other negative behavior directed at other team members is rarely an effective method of getting what you want.  It alienates people and if you ever have to go to a due process hearing it could be used against you.  Smother those that frustrate and aggrevate you with polite, well-reasoned responses that focus on the present not the past--it will garner respect, keep the focus on what is going to be done, and increase you chance of getting support from other team members.
(6)  Keep a Detailed Record.   It is very important to keep a good record of all communications and discussions with school personnel and other team members, whether inside or outside of a formal meeting.  A good record should include dates and times, who was present, what was discussed, any disagreements that occurred, any decisions that were made, what you basically said or presented, and your overall thoughts.  Similarly, you should date and keep every piece of paper the school sends in a file and a dated copy of anything you send to them.  Keeping a good record prepares you in case any disputes arise, and not only increases your chances of winning in due process, it reduces the liklihood that you will ever have to go to due process.
(7)  Compromise and Accept Success.   IDEA does not guarentee maximum benefit for the child, full inclusion, or unilateral parent decision making power.  You need to understand the limits of rights as well as how to asset them.  Conflicts and differences of opinion are bound to occur, and building a trusting partnership sometimes requires compromising on what you would prefer if there is another acceptable alternative preferred by others (I don't suggest accepting something that you believe will negatively affect your child).   When you show you are willing to try something out that you do not think is the best approach, you can very reasonably ask for some way to verify the success of the approach (in the case of a level of services) or movement toward what you would prefer (such as increasing ability to be in a less restrictive placement later on).  Remember not to derail what substantially gets you what you want because of lesser issues or details.
There are probably other suggestions for having a successful IEP/IFSP team experience--feel free to share them in the comments below.


chucknoe said...

This is a very well done article with good advice.
I would add that some individuals are better able to understand school procedures and this type of advice than others. Also some are more articulate than others, and some are more willing to challenge or appear to challenge authority. For reasons like these, it is important to remind parents that they can take someone to the meetings with them. This person does not have to be an attorney or advocate to be helpful to the parent. It would be helpful if this person is strong in the qualities that the parent is not so strong in. Also as someone noted elsewhere, this person can remind the parent of their agenda and remember things that were said that the parent does not alwasys remember.

chucknoe said...

Again this is a very good statement of a good foundation for dealing with an IEP meeting. As mentioned, knowledge is an important part of being prepared.

As far as knowledge, I will mention that I am working on an IEP on-line course for the Texas Parent Training and Information Center.
Also I hope to do a blog about IEP's and particularly about an upcoming concept, standards-based IEP's.
If you have questions or comments that will help you or others, feel free to let me know.

matt said...

Thanks, Chuck, for giving us #8 Bring some support with you--family, friend, or advocate.

For those wanting to check it out, is there a link to the Texas Parent Training and Information Center?

chucknoe said...

The website for our Center is: www.partnerstx.org. The cours on IEPs is not on the website yet, but there are resources there about IEPs.
If you want info on IEPs or to discuss IEPs with me, you can e-mail me at cnoe59@cableone.net.