When Your Child Needs More- 6 Tips to Implement Your Child’s Individualized Education Plan

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I grabbed my son’s hand and walked him out the door of his Pre-Kindergarten class- for the third time that week.  His wide, brown eyes were dulled with sadness, and he hung his head low.  I sighed as we gathered his backpack and strapped him into the backseat.  My mind was blank, though I was flooded with emotion. 

My happy, kind, loving, affectionate child wasn’t adapting well at school.  He didn’t have any visible disabilities, but his experiences when he was younger with domestic violence left unresolved trauma issues that affected his behavior at school. Though we were far removed from our history, the echoes of that time still clung to his small, innocent mind.

I reached out to friends and family for help and advice.  I did research on how best to help my son.  In my studies, I learned about Individualized Education Plans (IEP) through the public school system. By the end of the week, I reached out in writing (through email) to the school and asked for a special education assessment. By law, the school had 15 days to respond.  They responded in their allotted time period and provided an assessment plan.  In our case, the school’s plan included every assessment they had available.  I agreed to the plan, which started the clock.  The school had 60 days to complete their assessments.

Navigating the Special Education world has been overwhelming for me at times.  So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, I hope these 6 tips will help you.

  • Push for a Thorough Assessment

I am lucky to be in a school district that works collaboratively with parents to provide appropriate environments for children with special educational needs. I am well aware my story isn’t always the case.

The IEP process puts the parent in a position to advocate for their child.  Sometimes that advocacy can be at odds with the school administration.  Being at odds with your child’s school can be a difficult place to be.  So, it’s important to know you and your child’s rights.

You have the right to have your child assessed in every suspected area of disability.  If the school gives you a small list of assessments that you feel is inadequate or doesn’t address all of your child’s needs, you have the right to disagree with them and ask for further assessments.

  • Make Your Disagreements with Assessments and Plans Known to the School in Writing

I love email.  I have learned over my years as an attorney that it’s much better to have things in writing. When you write down your concerns and ask for responses in writing, there’s a paper trail you can use as evidence if you ever need it.  If you have any disagreements or concerns about the school’s plan, or lack thereof, write a professional, courteous email addressing your concerns. 

  • Identify How Your Child’s Behaviors or Needs Interfere with Their Education

Explain, in writing, what barriers you believe hinder your child from fully participating in their educational environment and what assessments or accommodations you think can help. Also, be sure your concerns are brought up and addressed at the IEP meeting.

  • Emphasize the Least Restrictive Educational Environment

By law, any special education plan must provide the child with the “least restrictive educational environment.”  The plan must also provide your child education “to the maximum extent appropriate with children who do not have disabilities.”  Some schools will try to take children out of the classroom and place them in a room where they are isolated for a large part of the day.  A plan like this more than likely won’t meet the school’s legal requirements to provide your child with the least restrictive educational environment.  You have every right to remind the school of their requirements and responsibilities in this situation.

  • Don’t Rush Your Decisions

You do not have to sign the plan the day of the meeting. You can take the draft plan home and review it. You can meet with your child’s medical and service providers to get their opinions.  There are even professionals in the special education field you can work with to ensure your child has the best plan for their needs.

  • Find Support

The IEP process can be stressful and overwhelming.  You will likely need a support group of friends, family, and others who have children going through the process.  You can find groups online that provide a lot of education and resources.  The State Department of Education also has resources available online for special services.  If you find your school is not following their legal requirements or properly working with you and your child, you can file a complaint with the department of education.

Remember, you are your child’s advocate and you know them best! Good luck out there.

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Sarah Stewart is a Wills and Trusts attorney, entrepreneur, writer, speaker, and human rights advocate. Sarah is a solo mom to two boys. She loves jiu jitsu, coffee, travel and adventure. She published her first book in October 2022- The Monster in My Home: Surviving Evil. You can find out more at www.solidserenity.com.

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