The Dreaded IEP… — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

The Dreaded IEP…

by Heather P


You know, I’ve read books about the IEP, I’ve watched speakers talk about the IEP, I’ve talked to teachers about the IEP… and I’ve listened to my other special needs friends talk about IEP.

And, I think we’re all wrong.


  1. The books- they were written about specific children in specific scenarios. As far as I’m concerned, each child is unique and differently abled, so let’s not put all Special Needs kids in a box and get everyone hyped up about it.
  2. Speakers- They speak on their own experience, not on mine. And 9 times out of 10, I can’t even relate to them.
  3. Teachers- Teachers speak from their side. Not all of them want what is best for our kids, they want what’s best for the environment. That’s not to say that some teachers aren’t fantastic (because they ARE!), but some hate the IEP because it forces them to do extra things that they just really don’t want to do.
  4. Parents- Oh parents. The IEP is set up to provide a set of goals for the child. This does not mean that it is all out war. I have heard far too many stories of parents going in, guns a’blazin’, to the IEP meeting. This does nothing for your position. It makes you look like you aren’t educated and it will cause animosity. This is not about YOU. It’s about your child. (and yes, I realize that your child is an extension of you…and that you want what’s best…)

So, here’s my plan to make IEP day much easier…and totally tolerable for everyone involved.

  1. Get up, get dressed, put on deodorant, and wear something other than lounge pants and your husband’s college hoodie.
  2. Stop at the local grocery store/bakery and pick up some cookies, doughnuts, or treats to share with everyone.
  3. Make sure you have any documentation that you may need from your physicians, etc., organized and readily available. Not having something makes this process so much more difficult.
  4. Catch the bees with honey, not vinegar! If someone rubs you the wrong way during your meeting, stop and take a deep breath. Compose your thoughts and provide a rebuttal that is dripping with sweetness. For example: If you want phyical therapy to help your child through the lunch line, and they say NO…You could say “Well my kid needs help and you’re going to give it to him or else!” OR You could say, “I had hoped that someone would help him through the lunch line, so that the poor janitor was not stuck cleaning up his lunch from the floor every single day.”
  5. Remember: You have the right to refuse services too! If they want to over-service your child, and you know that that will cause issues, you can tell them you don’t think that’s an appropriate action.

School is not ideal in any way…especially not for our kiddos. We just have to employ all the tools we have in our back pockets to make it as tolerable as possible.

Even if that means we have to tame a pit of vipers.

Email Author    |    Website About Heather P

Heather is a mom of two, wife, and nurse educator doing what she can to save the day! She lives in Orlando where she is routinely spotted driving while singing ABBA--all on a mission to advocate and educate!

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1 Julie Coryell September 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm

This is great! Totally what I needed to hear and be reminded of as our daughter’s IEP is in the next 30 days.

I’ve found that it is important to be your child’s advocate, but it is also important to show appreciation for the hard work that all the teachers & therapists do as well. I’ve also found that if I ask what their thought is in a particular situation (as they are with my child a large chunk of the day) that they are so much more open to new ideas that I bring to the table.

I’ve sat at the IEP table not only as a parent of a child with autism, but also as a school nurse. I totally agree with the fact that you will catch more bees with honey.

2 Heather P September 10, 2011 at 9:43 am

I’m a nurse too Julie…I think that’s why I take the honey path most often! Let me know how your IEP goes!

3 Kathleen Basi September 9, 2011 at 5:00 pm

This makes me smile. At every step (so far) I’ve expected to have to battle and instead have found lovely people on our side.

That doesn’t stop me being nervous about the kindergarten IEP, though… :/

4 Heather P September 10, 2011 at 9:44 am

Nervous is expected…I get nervous too! Kindergarten alone is a tough word to wrap around your head—then add IEP…oh gosh! Let us know how it goes, though!

5 Janet September 12, 2011 at 9:01 am

I dread every IEP meeting. It is just me. All but 2 have gone great. And Luke is now in 3rd grade. The first one before pre-school when none of the school staff had even observed Luke, and the first one I called after he got a medical autism diagnosis. One of my friends who also has a son on the spectrum always wants to know how/why I always get everything I want. I always go in assuming I will, knowing that they are the educational experts, willing to ask questions, willing to listen.

One mistake I have observed is going in with a negative attitude, assuming everything is going to be bad. Going in with a positive attidude makes a big difference. Being prepared and knowing your and your child’s rights helps. But don’t shove your knowledge down their throats.

Another one is taking another special needs parent(s) with you who has a child with the same diagnosis at the same school. The staff can feel like they are dealing with 2 at once. Issues become fuzzy.

I love, love, love Luke’s team. But I still hate IEP meetings – it goes back to the fear of being sent to the principal’s office 😉

6 Heather P September 14, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Janet…your attitude makes all the difference in the world! And I KNOW you have a great one! (I still get nervous too….) 😉

7 Liz September 13, 2011 at 3:13 pm

i work in EI/ECSE, and i have yet to meet a teacher or related staff person (PT/OT/SLP) who does not want what’s best for the child, but rather what is best for the “environment” (not sure what that means…classroom maybe??). rather than going in full of dread, we want you to come in knowing that your child’s educational team really wants to help write a document to provide just what your child needs with the resources available. i’m so pleased to hear that parents are having good experiences as part of the team for their child’s IFSP/IEP–and i hope that those who aren’t having good experiences find that the bad times are nonexistent in the future. a tip i have is that if either party hears something they don’t agree with, ask WHY. have a discussion rather than a standoff. and listen to what other people are saying and believe it is the best truth they know.

8 Heather P September 14, 2011 at 2:47 pm

YES—-Lizzzzzzz! Perfect! I really wish more parents were not so swayed by listening to other people’s horror stories, and taking that for what is going to happen to them. Sigh. We’ll have to work on this together.

9 Liz September 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm

That is the truth! So many horror stories…and they are true, but so are the good stories! Believe in the good…just keep swimming. 🙂

10 Judy September 15, 2011 at 3:38 pm

IEP is work of fiction, in my experience. My son is 21. Every year we go into the IEP with a positive attitude. Everyone on the IEP team loves my son. We talk about all of the Patrickisms and quirks he shares with everyone each day. I get the feeling they love him. I thank them for caring for him and working with him. They have lofty goals for him as he’s pretty high functioning. However, he never met any of his goals. The services were never what they were supposed to be, the OT person quit and a new person came later, etc, etc. It doesn’t matter what it was, when the next year came, he was still not functional at any of these ideals.

In my experiences the teachers and therapists ideally want what is best for my son They would love to be able to provide the him with what he needed. They are limited by their resources. They can’t be on top of 2o kids behavior all the time. They can’t let one aid take one kid to a main stream class and not have support for the rest of the class. The best educational plan for each individual is not possible for one teacher, regardless of how hard they try. They are lucky if they are able to accommodate the class in totality. Individualized plans are too much in a group setting. The group always wins.

We were always thankful that he had people who cared for him looking after him. And in life, don’t we have to learn to accomodate the group, the family, work environment? Being flexible probably should be the top of their IEP list, because it’s the hardest skill for them to master.

11 Heather P September 16, 2011 at 11:11 am

You know, Judy, you make a good point. I think inclusion has a place, but in that place there really is a huge lack of resources. I was just investigating a school with great possibilities for my son. It’s super small, very highly recommended, etc…and the thing is, it’s $25,000 per year. Sigh.

12 Judy September 16, 2011 at 2:36 pm

It is frustrating, isn’t it? You pay taxes and you still have to pay for a good education.

My neuro typical kids go to a private school and it’s wonderful. I wish I could have found something like it for my Special needs kid. I find when you pay for it, it’s easier to be get the things you want!! Teachers and administrators want you to be happy so you will continue to pay. They do what you ask. They want you to talk to them everyday. It’s very different from the public institutions. I only have fight in me for one. My older son got it.
I hope your experience in the small private school is positive. Nothing’s perfect but I think you’ll have less headaches, after you write the check!
Good luck.

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