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By Wayne Steedman
Step 3: building your own team
Parents are often at a disadvantage in IEP meetings because they have to rely on the reports and expertise of school personnel and school system representatives far out number them. To the extent that you can afford private assessments I strongly recommend them. Speech/Language assessments and neuropsychological evaluations are often extremely valuable for children on the autism spectrum. Some private health insurance plans will cover a portion of the costs of the assessments.
If you disagree with the school district’s evaluation, you may request an independent evaluation at public expense and the law requires the school district to either agree to pay for the evaluation or file for a due process hearing to defend its evaluation.
Private evaluations provide parents with an unbiased view of the child’s strengths and needs. Be sure the private evaluator has the expertise and skill to conduct the evaluation you need. Also be sure the evaluator meets your state’s certification and licensing requirements. The private evaluators you choose should be respected and known for their objectivity in the community.
The private evaluation alone will often not be enough to change the position of school personnel. That is why you need to build your own team of experts. Have the private evaluators attend the IEP meeting and explain as well as defend their evaluations. It is much harder for the school team to ignore the findings and recommendations of a private evaluation if the evaluator is sitting there before them. Your team should consist of experts in the areas of greatest need to your child. That may be a Speech/Language Pathologist, Neuropsychologist, Occupational Therapist, Educational Consultant, Behavioral Therapist, etc. Any private evaluation should include feedback from school personnel, including the child’s teacher(s). It is highly recommended that at least one member of your team conduct in-school observations of your child. Parents should also do observations.
Be sure to give the school a copy of the private evaluations so they have time to review them prior to the meeting. If you wait to give the evaluations at the meeting or just prior to the meeting, you run the risk of having the school postpone discussion of the evaluations to a later meeting. Be sure your experts have seen and reviewed each other’s reports as well as school reports and your child’s IEP. Schedule a conference call with all of your experts at least a few days prior to the IEP meeting. You want to ensure that your experts are aware of all the issues that may be discussed at the IEP meeting and address any differing viewpoints prior to the meeting. Your experts must also be aware of what you hope to accomplish at the IEP meeting.
Scheduling an IEP meeting with outside experts involved can be difficult. Schools sometimes set meeting dates and times without conferring with parents in advance. Keep in mind that the IDEA requires schools to schedule IEP meetings with parents on a mutually agreed upon date. Be sure to inform the school of all individuals you intend to bring with you to the IEP meeting. You should offer several dates in writing to the school that are available for you and your experts. If the school refuses to cooperate with you in scheduling the meeting, it runs the risk being found in violation of the IDEA’s strict requirement of parent participation in the decision-making process. Once a mutually agreed upon date has been established, the school is required to send written notice of the IEP meeting, That notice is extremely important and should be reviewed carefully. It should include not only the date, time and place of the IEP meeting, but the purpose of the meeting and who will attend. Be sure that at least one purpose of the meeting is to review and discuss the private evaluations as well as review and revise the IEP as needed.
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