Friday, August 10, 2012

Group therapy: Share your strategies for IEPs and help another mom

Wanted: Strategies for IEPs! This week I got an email from Andrea, a mom of two; her youngest, Emerson, 6, has cerebral palsy and  seizure disorder. As she says, "Since Emerson was born, I have hit the ground running with educating myself with all the knowledge that I can, finding every available resource, researching all I can in order to get my daughter what she needs.... Emerson is smart, funny, imaginative, creative. We need to tap into what will take her further."

She's dreading an upcoming Admission, Review and Dismissal committee meeting, where parents and educators design an individualized education plan. What she's struggling with: the goals of the IEP. "I want goals that are objective, not subjective," she wrote. "I don't want goals written in the '4 out of 5 times, Emerson completed xx' format... I feel like her IEP is very surface, it has no meat to it in order to tap into the best way she learns."

Max's IEP uses similar measures: "with 90% accuracy," it'll say; "75% of the time." I've never found the percentages to be particularly insightful, but I've never bothered to fight the system. I pay more attention to the actual results I see at home (reading, counting) and generally view the IEPs as a blueprint for the school year, which I fill out with ongoing conversations and emails with his teachers and therapists, official parent-teacher conferences and the occasional meeting I request.

When I've had specific requests at IEPs, I've gathered as much ammo backup as I can get, whether it's a letter from Max's neurologist or developmental pediatrician or a list of suggestions I've typed up and copied for everyone in attendance (I've been known to bring a clipboard to look Very Official). Having expert input and organized points is convincing, and also keeps my mind on facts and not get emotional. I've found that using the line "I know we all want what's best for Max" helps keep the focus on him and not on what I want for him. No matter what, compromise is often king at IEPs.

Andrea is eager to get ideas from other parents. So, what advice do you have for her on how she might better navigate her upcoming meeting with her daughter's school?


  1. Here's my advice: remember that the IEP can be changed at any time - you don't need to wait until next yera to reevaluate the IEP. Don't be adversarial. You definitely get more flies with honey than vinegar.

  2. I put in Boo's first IEP that the team would meet in 3 months to reasses. And I was thankful I did because before she entered the program they had no idea how many more services they would need.

  3. I don't like the " 3 out of 4 times" goals either. I've just accepted that school goals are school goals, and our personal goals are different/ more ambitious than what the school wants for my daughter. So, I write goals that are educational, and obtainable, but I spend more time writing the "big picture" vision statement. To me, that's more helpful and it gets across to your team the essence of what we want to happen over the course of year or even the next few years.

  4. In my experience; the key to a successful IEP is PREPARATION. I always take an iPad or laptop. This provides easy access to notes,points,areas to be addressed etc. I can also type faster than I can take write! The iPad or an iPhone allows you to record the meeting. I always state, prior to the meeting beginning, that I will be recording the session, if no one has any objections. I then ask for all the meeting attendees to introduce themselves with a description of their respective qualifications.

    A copy of Wrightslaw/Special Education Law is a must have.

    My objective is to negotiate the best possible IEP for my child. It lends to one's credibility to be prepared,professional and unemotional ie "not just a mom".

    As Tesyaa commented; the IEP can be changed at any time simply by the parent requesting an IEP Amendment meeting. Additionally, if you are not satisfied with the progression, content or any part of the meeting you, as a parent, have the option to stop the meeting with the opportunity to reconvene at a later date.

    Totally agree with Tesyaa that being adversarial is to no one's advantage. Teachers, therapists, counselors, admin et al that make up the ESE or SPED team are often invaluable,not appreciated and underpaid. The US Dpt of Labor reports median salaries of $53k for Special Ed Teachers and a median wage of $52k for General Education Teachers.

    That being said, a small, polite gesture, such as showing up to an IEP meeting with coffee/tea and muffins is appreciated. My meetings are always held in the early am :-).

    The IEP meeting platform is a unique opportunity to express your child's needs, to learn about his/her achievements and challenges from a multidisciplinary team.

    Excellent article! In my mind, the most salient point; "The IEP is a Blueprint". Words to live by.

  5. Sometimes within the goal they can spell out exactly how the goal will be achieved (when shown picture cards and given the verbal prompt ) Jonny will state the names and functions of pictures in 4 of 5 trials. By law goals must be measurable, obtainable and be clear with duration, setting, and how it will be achieved. Parents definitely get farther with honey than vinegar. When I work with parents who work with me and are realistic about their child (not expecting a child with an intellectual disability to be valedictorian of his class), I find that the child makes a lot of progress and I'm willing to go further to call parents at every step.

  6. The thing is, "child will do X on 4 of 5 tries" *is* objective - you can measure it. We tried once today and she did it. We tried yesterday and she didn't. We tried last week and she didn't. Those are things they can count.

    How a child learns isn't part of the goals - it's part of the methods and tools used to reach those goals.

    So, I'd think big picture. Things like, "right now she can demonstrate knowledge of the alphabet; by the end of the year she should be able to...."

    My advice: get an advocate.

    We have sought out professional help this year, after a very disappointing start last spring when our school didn't follow through on their own suggested goals for our son. The cost of it makes me cringe, but we can't have another year like last year.

    Advice we've been given includes "3 out of 4 tries means that if he does it 3 times, they can stop counting" and "X minutes 2-4 times a month means he gets X minutes 2 times" - so think in those terms when looking at goals. Not that schools aren't doing their best to help our kids most of the time, but whatever minimum is in the IEP is what they'll be held to. Also, that all goals should include a reference to current performance. If your child's goal is 90% accuracy on a task, it matters if their current performance is 10% or 80%.

    It might also be worth looking online for a "goal bank" - there are a few sites out there that catalog useful goals - they can make good conversation starters.

  7. Am I the only who the IEP generally confuses? I never know what goals are "good enough" to put down there and I feel like I am repeating myself every time because I have such high ambitions for my daughter (maybe I am TOO ambitious at this point..but is that possible??). I want her to be doing things that a typical 2-1/2 year old does and I verbalize that but I guess realistically, I should remember that because of her cerebral palsy, some of these goals are just not meant for her to reach at this point. Yuck, I don't even like writing that. Our case worker usually guides me along and gives me ideas of what typical goals should be, thank goodness or else I would be lost.

  8. Agree with all of the above. Most of this applies to IEP's over here in England too. They are flexible, changeable and center on the child. Any meeting with any professional needs a parent to be organised and ready to clearly state what they want and why in a way which stays firm and friendly. Our IEP's have flexed a lot over the years and take account of plateaus and jumps in development. Fortunately the mainstream school which Ash has attended welcomes our input and guides us every step of the way. Next year he's in a Special School so it's all change.

  9. I'd suggest another Wrightslaw book- from Emotions to Advocacy. I'd also suggest Barbara Bateman's How to Write Measurable Goals and Objectives. She has lots of examples of good examples.

    I'd also reiterate what this entry said. I'm a professor of special education, and I accept vague IEP goals for my son as long as I feel like the services are what he needs and he's making progress. I try to save fighting for when I really need something to change.

    I'd also say, if you are having trouble, an advocate is great, but you should be aware that as wrong and unfair as it is, simply bringing in an advocate can frequently get you labeled as "difficult" within the schools. Now that shouldn't stop you if you need the help, but you should be aware of it.

  10. I never saw a problem with the way the goals are written. They need some way to tell if they are being met or not. You can pack a lot into an IEP. One of the things that my son struggles with is social interactions and independence. We have goals written that encourage him to be more independent at recess. One of them was a rule that banned him from sitting in the sand box the whole time. He was doing that rather than interacting with his peers like I wanted him to be. This year we have a goal for him to walk home from school with his brother. They will meet up at the special ed teacher's room and she will check to make sure he has everything he needs to bring home and they will take the path home (they don't even have to go on any streets which is a bonus). Just be open to what everyone suggests, you know your child best but sometimes it is easy to get tunnel vision and not see other things that the team may see.

  11. I am more than happy to share advice with Andrea as I remember feeling very scared and unprepared at my daughter Kathryn's 1st IEP meeting where the IEP was written. As a resource teacher, i have attended many IEP meetings in my 25(15 then) years of teaching but that could not prepare me for that meeting 10 years ago.(its been that long ?) Here's my advice:
    -Dont be afraid to ask for a parent advocate
    -Before the meeting write down any questions or concerns you have.
    -Famlerize yourself with the whole legal process of IEp's before the meeting
    - Find out the person to contact for IEP help(ussally the head of CSE or dept of innovative services) and your childs case manager
    Finally heres a tip for ALL IEP parents have a meeting with your childs whole team within the first month fo school to make sure everythings going as planned.

  12. there is probably an app for iep writing. i know they have the prise and spec ed laws on apps. might want to check it out. also like you said, get therapists to write some goals down. i did that with an outside OT my son was seeing. tell them you want them to include them.

    BTW, i sent you an invite to see my blog. it was nice meeting you the other night at the BBQ

  13. I am a physical therapy student and recently did an internship in a school setting where I got some insight into goal writing for IEPs. The reason the "xx out of xx" times is used is that we really can't otherwise say a goal is met unless the child does it 100% of the time. For instance, if the goal is to walk down stairs step over step with 1 railing, if the child learns to do this and does it almost always but every now and then doesn't, we can't say they met that goal. Since this is extremely frustrating as a therapist (or parent) since we know the child can do it, it is much better to give a sort of "buffer" with the xx out of xx approach. This accounts for the fact that though a child can do something and has clearly mastered the skill/met the goal, children are inconsistent, and we don't want to say they haven't met a goal because of this. Please know that even if goals aren't saying 100% of the time, this is definitely our goal!

  14. I spent some time as an advocate assisting parents at IEP meetings, and I would recommend the resources at for New Yorkers especially, but the resources may be helpful in other school systems, too.
    If you're in New York City, you can always get advice and sometimes a free advocate (free legal counsel provided to families from low-income backgrounds). They also have lots of resources on their website, including:
    IEP mtg preparation tips:

    IEP mtg follow-up tips:

    Information about functional behavioral assessments and positive interventions:

    basic guide to special ed in NYC:

    Also, in NYC, check out http://

  15. I attend over 100 IEP meetings a year as an IEP coordinator so I thought I would share thoughts from the other side of the table.

    First, bring a bag of Hershey Kisses. If I know a meeting is going to be difficult I always do this. It's hard to argue when there is chocolate on the table.

    Second, I know the measure of 4 out of 5 or 80% is aggravating but remember that by law each goal must be specifically measurable. I personally use 80% accuracy in four out of 5 trials, or some derivation of that. This ensures that in order for a goal to be met you daughter has to be able to do it with at least 80% (or whatever the percentage is) in 4 out of 5 trials. This is important because if it just says 80% and she does the goal once at 80% technically the goal is mastered. You want to make sure that she has shown mastery more than one time.

    Third, reframe your thinking about the IEP. Instead of a measure of what your daughter can't do, what if it was a report telling you all that your child will accomplish in one school year. This is hard but can make the meetings a little less painful.

    Fourth, ask lots of questions. The analogy l use with the parents and students I work with is that if they were meeting with a doctor who used words they didn't understand they would ask questions. Same with an IEP meeting. It is important that you, more than anyone else at the table, understands what is in the document.

    Fifth, and this goes against other advice given here, don't rush to get the IEP written in the first few weeks of school if you are working with a new team. You want the team to know your child and this takes more than a few weeks of school. If you do have it in the beginning of the year ask for a follow up meeting and determine the date at the first meeting.

    Sixth, if you don't want to bring an advocate, or can't afford one, bring someone with you. A good friend, family member, etc. It's intimidating going to the table with you and a half dozen "experts." They don't have to say anything, just have them there to support you. You have the legal right to bring whomever you choose.

    Seventh, and last, remember that you set the tone. I admit that we are quick to label parents as "difficult" when they come in upset and out to fight. Come in with a positive demeanor and the staff should follow your lead. I have parents whose meeting I look forward to every year because although I know they will challenge me, they do so in a professional, collegial manner. And don't forget the chocolate.

    Hope this helps.

  16. I am a school-based Speech-Language Pathologist. As others have said, goals are written with 4 out of 5 or 80% because they are required to be specific and measurable.
    If you have specific concerns/goals for your child, please bring them up at the IEP meeting, or better yet, call/email your child's therapist ahead of time to talk to them about your goals for you child. They may be able to incorporate them into their goals for the upcoming year.
    It can be very difficult for some parents to process everything going on at the IEP meeting. Some of the best meetings that I have been to are ones where parents bring a grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc. who has experience as a teacher to the IEP. They are able to ask "the right questions" of therapists and teachers about what they are doing to support the child in school, and what can be done to support their work at home.

  17. I'm a special education teacher for preschool and an early interventionist. It is always interesting to read a family's perspective of the IEP. We, professionals, get lazy (sometimes, I think) because we know what the jargon is and the abbreviations. Unfortunately, we are usually on a schedule and I know we rush through many of the IEPs - I am not saying that is okay. I would suggest that you develop a close relationship with your child's team - in a friendly (and with chocolate!) manner. We really all want what is best for your child, but there are some parameters called laws that we must work within. I have MUCH respect for parents who advocate for their children even though they might be "difficult" - it is in a good way! :-) School districts are petrified of lawsuits! I agree that parents are getting tons of information, quickly and may not be able to digest everything - ask questions, ask to reconvene in order to finish it if you need to talk to your spouse or doctor or just think, record and/or take a friend or advocate, relax, and you can always ask for another IEP meeting in 3-6 months, etc. Wrightslaw is a fantastic resource! And you can always just chat with the teacher or therapist to bounce ideas or concerns off them. Professionals (most of them anyway) entered the field because we want to help kids with special needs......

  18. Thank you Ellen for the headsup!

    Hi Andrea,

    I am a special education teacher and I understand where you are coming from. Of course, you should be vigilant and stick up for your rights, but remember that most folks on the side of the school like the teachers & administrators are also there because they believe in Max. As educators we also want to see the parents of our students to be as determined, loving, and concerned parent that you are to Max.

    having a strained relationship with the school personnel is a poor strategy for getting your child's needs met. And in most cases, it's simply not fair. What would help would be:

    - understanding special education law
    - identifying your child's needs
    - preparing for IEP meetings with pertinent documentations
    - understanding you IEP goals are developed (it has to me specific, measurable, attainable, rigorous & realistic, and time-bound)
    - knowing how to resolve disputes in a professional way

    I would also like to share that there are new rules for IEP meetings based from the 2004 amendments in the IDEA, and here are some that is insightful to know for parents:

    - changes in the IP can now be made without a meeting, if both the parent and the school district agree and the changes are made in writing.
    - IEP meetings can now be help by video conference or conference call rather than in person.
    - members of the IEP team can be excused from attending in certain circumstances, if you agree to their absence.

    I hope this helps, and please do not forget to let me know if you need more information. Have a great weekend!

    All the best,

    Maria Angala (@TeacherSol)

  19. I wrote a post last year about our approach, I hope it is helpful!

  20. This has been interesting reading coming from many different perspectives. Here is Australia, in
    Melbourne we have IEP once a term so four times a year.These meetings are linked with integration aide funding and comprise of myself, school principal, class teacher and integration support teacher. I always find it hard to have written goals as they always seem so minute in the gramd scheme of things that i want coop to develop. I find the meetings really depend o nthe teacher for the year and how proactive and inclusive they are. I dont necessarilty rate the meeting bery highly i put alot more value in natural conveersation and seeing how the teacher intereacts with my child in the classroom and generally their passion towards inclusion can be seen straight up.
    That said i have had 6 school IEP and have cried in 4 of them! But moreso happy tears as i relay Coopers excitment of having a first grade teacher who listens to him and takes the time to.
    I do like the chocolate idea though. I have coopers iep on monday so will do that.

  21. As a special education teacher and also the family member of a child with a disability, I would say that it is most important to focus on the accommodations and services. Those are the aspects that will make a difference for your child. The goals are a simply a monitoring tool - they aren't what make the difference!

  22. The best advice I could give is to educate yourself because as I'm sure you are very well aware, YOU are your child's best advocate. I took a Special Education Law class online that is a requirement for Special Ed teachers and it was invaluable. I would also tell you to assume best intentions. Go in positive and ready to WORK for your child, and not fight for them (as we are so used to having to do for many other things). If you feel like you aren't being heard or don't understand something, speak up because as someone mentioned in a previous comment, this is a second language to them and they forget it may be new to you. It isn't that they are trying to rush you through it. Lastly, you should take a few days (minimum) to look over the agreed upon IEP BEFORE signing it. You have the right to not sign it at the meeting in order to fully absorb everything that has been discussed. You are limited on time but should have enough to bring it home, go over it thoroughly and even change something if you are second guessing it. You won't be able to hold off indefinitely on signing, nor should you try to, but please do take it home for a few days to review when you aren't feeling so overwhelmed. Good luck!

  23. You have the right to not sign it at the meeting in order to fully absorb everything that has been discussed.what is iepWe support to not only parents and children dealing with extraordinary educational needs, but also support for schools and businesses for programs, assistance etc


Thanks for sharing!