Advocacy and the IEP Meeting

IEP meetings can be scary. I often hear parents talk about feeling like the school ran the ‘show’, and they didn’t really get a chance to share their point of view. It’s so hard sometimes to know how to take charge in these types of meetings. Advocating for what is best for your child is even harder.

I didn’t feel like I was getting anything accomplished until I started planning and thinking about the meetings ahead of time. In the beginning I assumed the school knew what was best. Why wouldn’t they do the very best for my child, it’s their job, right?! Well….it doesn’t exactly work that way. Often they have too many kids to work with, limited money and no time. To get what my son needed I had to do all the work. Preparing ahead of time became my best friend.

Over the years I’ve tried many different things, and finally arrived at the strategies listed below. I also created two tools that I use to help organize my thoughts. The first is an IEP Worksheet the second is an IEP Meeting Agenda. I print them out, and then I think about the questions below and write my thoughts onto the corresponding sheets. I often use the IEP Worksheet to write all my crazy, upset thoughts down about everything. I let it sit for a while and when I’m calmer I review what I’ve written and transfer the main ideas and thoughts onto the IEP Meeting Agenda sheet to bring to the meeting.

Critical thinking about the issues

One of the best ways to prepare is to really sit and think critically about the meeting. Use the IEP Worksheet to jot down your thoughts after reading through these questions below.

  1. What are your child’s strengths? Sometimes this gets overlooked and everyone immediately jumps to addressing the challenges, but it’s important to review the areas where your child shines. Maybe you can use these areas to help with areas of need. My son ‘writes’ and ‘reads’ using apps on an iPad and he knows the device inside and out. Once the school saw his skills they asked him to help take care of the other iPads and laptops and show others how to use them. His strength turned into a confidence booster and a great way for him to be social!
  2. What are your frustrations/concerns? Write down your concerns and everything that’s frustrating you and/or your child. Where is your child struggling? It’s helpful to really think about this and make a list to help figure out what you want to accomplish at the meeting.

Now that you’ve identified your frustrations as well as the areas in which your child shines, it’s time to focus on the meeting itself. Working out answers to the next two questions can be crucial to the success of the meeting.

  1. What is the school’s purpose for the meeting? The school should send home a meeting notice that lists the purpose of the meeting. Why are you having the meeting? Will you be addressing a problem either you or the school is having? Is it an annual IEP meeting? Identifying the purpose and writing it down will help everyone stay on track at the meeting.
  2. What are your expectations for the meeting? Next, ask yourself what you’re hoping to accomplish at the meeting. Dig deep here because if your expectations don’t match up with the schools you’ll be seriously disappointed. Look at the frustrations and concerns you identified above, what do you need to happen? Are you expecting to add Accommodations? Write new goals? Add assistive technology? If your expectations don’t match up with the school, get in touch with your Special Education Teacher or whoever is in charge of IEP meetings and discuss your needs. Maybe they will be willing to add your topic to the agenda, or at the very least agree to ask everyone at the meeting to set a time for a second meeting to discuss your topics.
  3. Brainstorm possible solutions or ideas to address concerns. Talk to other parents and family members and jot down ideas you may have read about in an article or researched online. Really think about your concerns in terms of solutions so that you can identify what you think might work and also, what might not work.
  4. Think about the members of the IEP team. What are their different personalities? How do they respond to your needs/questions? Is there someone you really relate to? Thinking about the different people who will be in the room can help you identify areas where you’ve struggled in the past and allow you the opportunity to plan for issues that may arise. I also sit close to the person I feel I have a connection with, it makes me feel like there’s strength in numbers!

Using resources

Next, look at the ideas you’ve written down and see where you think you need some further guidance. For example, if you feel you will be faced with a great deal of resistance about an item, check out the ‘Top 10 Reasons Schools Say No’ article on the www.wrightslaw website. The best support I ever received was this website address. Wrightslaw was created by Pam Wright and Pete Wright, adjunct professors of Law at the William and Mary School of Law and co-founders of the Institute for Special Education Advocacy at the law school. They have created the most amazing resources, many of which are free. The articles and resources on their main website helped me begin my journey to becoming a successful advocate for my son. The website is a bit overloaded with information and can feel overwhelming. Here are a few tips:

  • The main website address:
  • Use the resources in the column on the far left to search a specific topic.
  • Sign up for the newsletter, it’s always very useful.
  • If you can, purchase the book Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd edition by Harbor House Law Press. I think it’s around $19.95 but well worth it. I’ve had it for forever and I still look things up.
  • Also worth your while (and money) is their book Wrightslaw: All About IEPs also by Harbor House Law Press. The print version is $12.95 and there are digital editions for $7.95.
  • Their second website is: This site is the companion website for the book From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition, mentioned above. It too contains a confusing amount of information, but same as the original website, use the column on the left to get started. There is a lot of information from the book listed for free.
  • Many of these books are available at local libraries.

The most important thing to remember is that no one knows your child like you do. If you think something needs to change, the team needs to explore your concerns. You’re in charge of what happens to your child!