Top 10 Tips to Prepare for Your Child's IEP

March 3rd, 2017

Beginning in late March, through the end of the school year, parents of children with special needs will begin their annual Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process.  The IEP process aims to capture the progress made over the past 12 months and define new goals to achieve over the next year.  While the intention is to help students reach their greatest potential, the process can be overwhelming and emotional for family members involved.  To support parents through this necessary, annual process, The Arc of Essex County offers our top 10 tips for preparing for your child's IEP:

  1. Your first IEP may occur when your child turns three and begins pre-school, though some may occur later.  Begin the IEP conversation with your school district six months prior to your child's third birthday to ensure the school district conducts all evaluations and prepares an initial IEP prior to the start of school.
  2. Prepare a "Me" book to introduce the school district to your child - include likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, motivators, etc.  This resource helps to paint a personalized and accurate picture of your child and their support needs.
  3. Approach your role in the meeting as your child's advocate and voice. Remain calm and well informed when discussing the needs of your child. Don't take a back seat; speak up for what you feel is best for your child.
  4. Be Prepared.   Speak to your child's medical team, consult with other parents, attend workshops offered by your school district or other provider agencies to learn educational best practices that pertain to your child's specific educational needs.
  5. Make a binder that becomes your child's annual IEP resource.  Refer to the previous year's IEP before attending the current year's IEP.  This becomes a handy tool to reference your child's progress to see what works, what can be improved, and what goals and objectives can be added for the future.
  6. If you are uncomfortable with anything in your child's IEP, you have 15 days to review, request changes, and ensure your expectations and concerns are met before going into effect.
  7. Be sure that all evaluations (psychological, therapies, vocational, etc.) are up to date and that you keep copies to be used when applying to PerformCare before the age of 18 or to the Division of Developmental Disabilities at the age of 18.
  8. Between the ages of 18 and 21, advocate for vocational sampling and community integration to be part of your child's educational experience.
  9. At your final IEP before aging out of the educational system, invite your support coordinator or service providers (if they have been identified) to ensure the smoothest transition into the world of adult services.
  10. Your child's individual education plan is protected by federal law. If you feel the guidelines of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are not being adhered to, you can consult professional counsel or parent advocacy groups.

For more information or questions about the IEP process, see the New Jersey Department of Education's Special Education Resources.  For additional information about transitioning from the educational setting to adult services, contact The Arc of Essex County's Senior Director of Supports Program Service Melissa Soules at msoules@arcessex.org   or (973) 535-1181 ext. 1262.