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5 Ways Parents Can Advocate With Kindness for Better IEP Outcomes by Jessica Beaty

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Many families are struggling with gaining access to medical and school support. The waiting periods are excruciating and many times the only access to services and support is through the school district. So, by the time a family figures out about evaluations through the school district, it may have been years of waiting for medical appointments, constant letdown, and repeating their child's history over and over.

Once a parent begins their special education journey, they have already heard one horror story after another from other families. The advice given is to keep your “wall up”, be careful what you share, and keep a lawyer on standby. Then, if you spend any time in special education advocacy groups on social media, all you hear is the negative outcomes, the push-back by the school, and that the school doesn’t truly want your child to attend there. 

What if we were honest about all aspects of the special education IEP process, such as, how schools make educational decisions, what data do schools need to move forward, what information is important for parents to share, and how parents need to provide detailed information about their child at home? 

Many parents enter the special education process with the understanding that the school will know what their child’s needs are automatically and manage their education like “they” would. What parents need to realize is without their collaboration and input there is no way for a school to get the full picture of their child’s specific needs. 

So, what can parents do to build collaborative relationships with their school while having tough conversations about meeting their kids' needs? 


1) Be Proactive

Parents, it’s important to be involved in the whole IEP process, documenting decisions, following up to make sure the IEP is implemented, and not waiting for your IEP team to share information. A school has many students to take care of and it would be impossible to make sure things are moving forward with your vision in mind without you inserting yourself respectfully into the process. You can do this proactively, kindly, and assertively without hurting your relationship.


2) Maintain focus on your child’s vision for the future

Take time to sit down and think about your child’s future with optimism, hope, and knowledge of what your dreams are for them. Then write it down and revisit it often. This vision is what will help develop your parent input each school year, what assessment data you need to monitor closely, what observations to share from home, and how to help guide your team in developing goals to work on skills towards that future vision.


3) Prioritize Your Concerns.

It can be helpful to keep a running list of your child’s strengths, your concerns, interests, and vision for your child’s future. Then, use this list to prioritize the skills (2-3 areas) that you need to work on over this next school year. 


4) Maintain Flexibility and Openness with Decisions

When you focus on only one outcome, it makes it difficult to hear others’ suggestions. As parents, we need to figure out how your child learns, what motivates them, and lagging skills first. We need to be flexible in trying different strategies to see what works best for your child. So, having open and consistent communication with your child’s IEP team is key. 


5) Listen & Ask Questions

Parents need to understand they have more control over the IEP meeting than we realize. Do you need additional time to process the information given? You are allowed to ask for breaks within the IEP meeting or to schedule another meeting to discuss further. If something doesn’t make sense, ask as many questions as needed to understand. Listen to what everyone is saying and then ask questions to clarify!


If there is one piece of advice for parents, it is to communicate often, clearly, and put your thoughts in writing. With practice, you will find the best way to insert yourself into the IEP process and manage your child’s IEP from home. It’s important to remain emotionally neutral, have a support system to be there for you, and remain as open as possible while you are building teamwork and trust with your school. 


About the Author

Jessica Beaty is an autistic mom of two, a special education consultant, and a Master IEP Coach®. She helps parents feel confident working with their IEP team by knowing what to share about their child’s learning needs so the IEP is focused on the right areas. Her expertise is with preschool through elementary age families with or without official diagnosis of autism, adhd/add, specific learning disability, and sensory processing support needs.

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If you liked this and want more IEP strategies, then you’ll love these episodes of the Special Education Inner Circle podcast: 





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