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IEP Help for Parents

As a special education advocate, I receive phone calls from frustrated parents who are desperate to find someone to help them with their child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). By the time they reach out for an advocate, trust with the district has been lost and many parents end up asking, “Am I crazy?” After many years of doing this, I have yet to tell a parent that they are crazy.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the special education process, you are not alone! And you most definitely are not crazy! The special education system is extremely complex and difficult to maneuver through. Even special education directors with years of training, often consult with a special education attorney. So don’t let this complex system sway you from what you know—the needs of your child. I have seen many parents trust their instincts and with the right information, maneuver through the system and get the services their child needs.

There is IEP help for parents and where you obtain this help is going to depend upon your specific situation. If you have concerns with your child’s IEP, the first person you should address this with is the special education teacher. Of course, if the conflict is directly with the teacher, then you may need to address it with a site administrator  (assistant principal or principal) or a special education district representative (program specialist, coordinator or director). Sometimes issues can be resolved outside of an IEP meeting but if there is going to be a change to your child’s program, make sure it is documented through an addendum to the IEP.

Documentation is KEY

Documentation is extremely important when it comes to the field of special education. If there isn’t documentation, then the claim doesn’t exist. This holds true for a claim by the parent, or a claim by the school. One of the first issues that I see parents having a problem with is getting the school to test their child for special education services. Parents often aren’t aware that a verbal request is not the same as a written request. They believe that if they voice their concerns with the teacher and ask for testing, then testing will begin. This is not the case. You must first put your request in writing and when you turn it in, have the date stamped on the original and make sure you get a copy. This will actually start a 15 day timeline where the district is required to provide you with an assessment plan, or a written explanation as to why they are denying your request for an assessment.

Documentation through work samples and data collection is something that should be presented at every annual IEP meeting.  As last years goals are being reviewed, work samples should be presented to the team to support the claim that the child has met or not met the goals. Data and work samples can also be used to create solid baselines for the new IEP goals. If the team does not present any data or work samples, it is your right to request them and even refuse to sign the IEP until the team provides you with the requested documentation.

Even with proper documentation from the IEP team and a clear understanding of your procedural safeguards, it can be extremely challenging to know if your child is receiving a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). If you feel that your child is not receiving an appropriate education, trust your Mommy (or Daddy) instincts. I have found that they are never wrong! Sometimes parents come to me, not quite sure of what is wrong, but knowing that they need IEP help. They have tried the traditional avenues of talking with the teacher and principal, but to no avail. The teacher claims that she is already providing additional assistance in the classroom, while the principal adamantly says she will look into it and then never gets back to you. You are left with sleepless nights caused by worry about your child’s future that if you don’t get them the right support now, it will soon be too late. After all that research you’ve been doing, you’ve learned all about those formative years and how important a proper education is. You continue to spend countless hours scouring the internet for any information that could be helpful. You have learned so much about your child’s condition that you are now convinced that you must know more about your child’s disability than your child’s pediatrician and teacher combined but you still can’t seem to get anyone at the school district to act upon your concerns.  If you are feeling like this, it is time to consult with an advocate.

How A Special Education Advocate Can Help

An advocate will be able to assist you with maneuvering through the special education process. They will advise you on your parents’ rights, review assessments and IEPs, and help you obtain the correct goals and services based on the needs of your child. They will understand and be able to clearly explain to you a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and how a district is required to provide a continuum of services. A knowledgeable advocate will use IDEA to support what your child needs and start rebuilding trust with the school district. They will be able to help you through all stages of your child’s education; whether it is preschool, elementary, middle, or high school. They will be familiar with eligibility requirements, transition requirements, as well as extended school year (ESY) requirements.

An informed advocate will be able to save you countless hours of research and worry. They will have the needed skills to rebuild the trust with the IEP team and guide the team in developing a specialized program that truly fits the individualized needs of your child.

What To Look for In A Special Education Advocate

When looking for an advocate, you want to find someone who has knowledge of IDEA, conflict resolution, school systems, and someone who has various experiences in the field of special education. There are no legal requirements to prevent someone from calling themselves a special education advocate so be sure to inquire about their education, training, and experience. The right advocate will put your mind at ease and let you focus on being a parent.

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