Wednesday, May 12, 2021

How I learned to be OK with my child's IEP meetings

This is a guest post by Jane Kim, a writer and mom to a 9-year-old with autism. She works in the field of immigration, and lives with her family in the Philadelphia suburbs. 

We were at 2 hours and 50 minutes, and my legs were going numb. No, I wasn’t running a marathon—I was at an IEP meeting. The intense planning, accountability and bravery involved can feel like doing a 10K. But I was also experiencing another feeling: gratitude, because his team and I had finally reached a mutual understanding.  I choked back tears and thanked them.

I’ve attended three years of IEP meetings for my son, T, in different personas: passive participant, note-taker, hard-liner, solider heading into battle, and on my best days, as co-leader and team player.  The journey has been difficult—I used to take antacids before meetings—but I have finally hit that sweet spot. I attribute it to both the passage of time—and a handful of different things I’ve put into place. 

First, focus on yourself

This year, I wrote a mission statement for myself and set ground rules, too. I kept them in my IEP folder on a sheet of paper that I could pull out and place next to me during meetings (they’ve been virtual). Having it there helped me stay on track and served as a reminder of the ultimate goals of the meeting. 

Mission statement
: With each meeting, for the team to gain a better understanding of T. To focus on his strengths, to address the challenges and to strive for increased independence.

Ground rules: 
Prepare talking points. Accept that T may be different at school than at home. Respect comments and feedback from T’s team. 

Hold the team—and yourself—accountable.

Start by asking the team, “What are my child’s strengths?”
This starts meetings on a positive note and encourages teachers and therapists to see  
how a child’s strengths can help with the challenges that will be discussed. For example, T loves music. If there is a song that can reinforce a difficult concept or behavior he is struggling with, I’ll often turn to YouTube for ideas. One area that was difficult for him was remembering to raise his hand to speak. I found some catchy songs and videos on this topic—one of my favorites can be found here. I’ll also share T’s accomplishments with his team, which instills a sense of pride in them and sets a good tone for the meeting.    

Know when to be assertive and when to speak up 

Most of us know when to speak up, but for those of us that are newer to IEP meetings, here are some reminders: If you don’t understand something, say so. If you don’t agree with something, speak up. If a member of your child’s team says during the meeting that they will look into something and they don’t, follow up. Being assertive is not the same as being argumentative. Over the years, I’ve learned to be candid with my son’s team over a variety of issues: we’ve discussed adjusting his goals to ensure they are appropriately lofty, incorporated personal motivators to achieve more success and cut down on unwanted behavior, and tweaked prompting and prompt fading for increased independence in the classroom (Prompting is essentially a way to remind a child when to do something or teach a child how to do something correctly—for more information, see the helpful chart here.)

The pandemic has posed additional challenges. When it came time for all the kids in his class to resume full-time instruction, I knew it would be an adjustment for T. The first week, there was an incident at recess where T would not give up a toy. I was told by a member of his team “….to review expectations before school so he can hear this language.” T was being blamed for poor discipline and she was unable to see that this was an indication he needed additional support to navigate a newer, bigger recess environment. I spoke up and asked the team to have empathy for T and other students like him, rather than blame. After that conversation, supports were put in place for T to feel more comfortable—and included—at recess.  

Ask, “How can this be achieved?” 

Sometimes, I’ll receive the following feedback: T needs to follow directions better. T needs to respect people’s space. T needs to raise his hand and learn to wait his turn. My response: “Thanks for sharing this information with me. What are your ideas on how T can better learn to do this?” Challenges are going to be discussed, and this is an opportunity for the group to think about solutions together.

Get comfortable with changing course

When T’s school switched to virtual learning, I got a front row seat into his classroom. For writing assignments, I noticed that T was asked to tell the teacher what to write rather than write it himself on paper. My son has struggled with his writing for some time. There’s been progress but sticking with the traditional route of pencil to paper was beginning to affect topic writing, story development and his confidence. Having his teacher write for him created dependence, whereas the goal needed to be independence.

At his last IEP meeting, we decided it was time to try assistive technology. The SnapType app allows you to take a picture of the worksheet/assignment and type your answer rather than write it. He’ll still use pencil and paper, but adding this technology made sense. An added perk was that he also got more comfortable with the keyboard. 

Request progress reports

Mine gives me an understanding of his areas of progress and difficulty while spotting any trends in behavior. Determine a frequency that works; I requested a weekly report, received every Friday and broken down by subject, and his teacher agreed. Weekends are when I’m able better able to digest the information provided, with a clear head. For any parent, progress reports are an opportunity to identify roadblocks and brainstorm different ways to learning. I’ve also asked T’s team to provide activities I think he will enjoy over the weekend to reinforce concepts he may be struggling with at school. Often, I share what I am seeing at home, so the team is aware of his progress.

I can’t say I look forward to IEPs, but getting to OK has been incredible progress for me—and that is reason enough to celebrate. For those of you struggling with this, I hope you can get there too. 

This post is dedicated to A. Ross, OT and L. Nicosia, SLP. Thanks for going the extra mile. 

Photo: Etsy/APolkaDotShop


  1. I love the point that the child may be different at home then then are in school and that is ok. Something to remember for sure. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great article with many useful tips that can be used in a day to day life of every mom. Thanks for sharing your story and experience. T is so lucky to have such an amazing mom-advocate!

  3. Thanks for sharing your triumphs and struggles Jane! I always look forward to your candid, thoughtful, and informative blog posts!!

  4. Really great article with valuable insights and tips. Thank you for sharing and congrats on your IEP journey and growth.


Thanks for sharing!