6 Back-to-School Tips from Parents of Students with Special Needs

Now that school is here, many parents of students with special needs are busy getting organized for their back-to-school meetings. One of those meetings could be an IEP meeting. IEP stands for Individualized Education Program, and an IEP plan helps map out goals for students getting special education services.

We asked our parents, teachers and specialists to share their advice for parents getting ready for an upcoming IEP meeting. Here is what they had to say:

1. Prepare for IEP meetings ahead of time

Just because you put an IEP meeting on the calendar doesn’t mean you have to wait until then to get ready! Many of our parents suggest that reviewing the IEP form ahead of time, asking the school staff any questions you have about the process, and thinking about your child’s goals can help set you and your child up for success at the first IEP meeting.

As you’re thinking about your child’s goals for the school year, read through Understood’s “3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Your Next IEP Meeting.” Planning ahead can help reduce any stress you may have, and make you feel confident and ready to partner with the school to take charge of your child’s education.

“As an education specialist, I often see parents who are unfamiliar, confused and overall unprepared to participate in IEP meetings.”

“Look at the IEP form before the meeting and focus on one section at a time.”

Want to look at the Massachusetts IEP form? Scroll to the bottom of this blog and start our free IEP Guide.

2. Bring a binder to the IEP meeting

Any parent who has been through an IEP meeting before will tell you that keeping track of everything in one place can be a lifesaver.

“Having a binder can make it easy to store IEPs from a previous year, disability evaluations, notes from doctors, or anything else relating to your child.”

“Make sure you put a picture of your child on the cover of the binder! It can be a reminder to everyone at the meeting who you’re really there to help.”

 3. Be aware of timelines

The IEP process has a few different pieces to the puzzle, each with their own timeframe or deadline.

For example, if you and the school disagree on your child’s IEP and you’d like to have a hearing to try and find a solution, the school has 30 calendar days to try to solve the problem directly with you before the hearing (the hearing should be a last resort!).

“It’s good to learn the number of days each task should take the school to do. In the past, I usually didn’t know how long to expect answers from school.”

4. Get involved!

Finding other parents who have been in your shoes can make a big difference in how quickly you can learn the “ins and outs” of the special education process. Many of our parents have said that if it weren’t for their school district’s Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC), they would have had to learn things the hard way.

Use this listing from SPED Child & Teen’s Sharon Marie to find your local SEPAC and get involved!

“I didn’t know about SEPACs before, but I’m definitely going to get involved!”

5. Think about getting an advocate 

A special education advocate can help you prepare for and even attend the IEP meetings. They are often parents of children with special needs who have gone through the process themselves and learned a lot along the way.

The Federation for Children with Special Needs has put together a free brochure to help parents choose the right special education advocate.

“Knowing how to find a special education advocate if you need one will save parents a lot of time and stress.”

6. Find creative, fun ways to get your child excited about school

Getting any student excited about school can be tough, but making school a positive experience can help your child feel ready to learn. Try to be encouraging about school when your child comes home, and do what you can to make it more enjoyable.

"If your child is starting a new school, go and play on the playground together before or after school. This helps school to become a familiar and fun place."

Looking for more back-to-school tips? Check out our free IEP Guide by clicking the button below.

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