Getting off to the right start

Ten tips to make sure your child's IEP is ready to go on day one.

By Valle Dwight

Remember that IEP you so carefully crafted back in the spring for your child’s new school year? Don't look now, but summer's almost over, and it’s time to find that IEP, dust if off, and make sure that his team is ready to go on the first day of school.

Often parents find that the school is in fact not ready to implement the IEP on that first day, and they are told to “give us a few weeks to get things set up.” That might be fine for some kids, but for others it might start their school year off on a bad note that takes even more time to recover from.

So what can you do to make sure that your child’s education plan and team is ready to go from day one? We talked to special educators, lawyers, advocates, and parents to compile this list of tips.

  1. Meet early. Try to meet with your child’s team before school starts to talk about the IEP. Keep it casual and set the tone for future interactions (you’re going to be seeing a lot of each other in the months ahead!). If there were issues that were a problem last year, make sure to talk about them right away.
  2. From the mouths of babes. Before school starts, talk to your child and ask what "works" at school and what does not, and what he would like to see done differently. Use that information when you meet with his team.
  3. Go to the pros. Find other parents who have kids a bit ahead of yours to learn about their experience and maybe get some tips that could help you and your child.
  4. Make it stand out. Make sure the new teacher has a copy of the IEP (and has read it!). If the child is transitioning from elementary to middle or middle to high school, it’s even more crucial. Make copies on brightly colored paper for all of the teachers, including the PE teacher.
  5. Aide first. If your student has an aide, talk to the school principal a few days before school starts to ensure that the aide is in place when your child arrives. If you can, set up a meeting with the aide to talk about how your child learns best.
  6. Check in. Schedule a meeting for a few weeks into the school year to check in with your child’s teacher. See if she has any questions about the IEP or about your child now that she has gotten to know him a bit. Tell the teacher how your child learns best. Offer to answer questions about the disability and how it affects your child in the school environment.
  7. Fill them in. When you’re setting up meetings, don’t forget the “related services” folks — the physical, speech, and occupational therapists on the team. Find out when they are planning to work with your child. Make sure it’s not interfering with crucial academic time. Also if they are new to the team, fill them in about your child, his strengths and weaknesses, and any tips that will help them work with him.
  8. Make a plan. Set up a communication plan with the teacher(s) to stay in touch about daily issues, such as homework assignments, social skills progress, and behavior issues. Many teachers are comfortable doing this through email.
  9. Progress report. Keep a close eye on your child’s program the first few weeks and if you sense that things are not going as well as expected or that a specific IEP goal/service is not being implemented, immediately call for an IEP meeting.
  10. Medic alert. If your child has medical issues, make sure to talk to the teacher (and the school nurse) about special diets, medications, and food allergies before school begins. Let them know about any warning signs of allergies or illness such as a rash or flushed skin.

Thanks to a team of experts for their input on this story:

Valle Dwight is a reporter, writer, and mother of two school-aged boys. She has written for many magazines, including FamilyFun, Wondertime, and Working Mother.