How to Approach an IEP Meeting

10 tips from an experienced mom
Photo courtesy of Monkey Business Images/

For those of us who have kids with special needs, educating them sometimes feels like navigating a tangled web of barbed wire. The individualized education program meeting day is when it’s time to scale the fence. Here are my best tips for not only surviving, but embracing the IEP meeting.

1. Feel the feelings. As a special needs family, we get used to a crazy life. However, as the date for the big IEP meeting approaches, I grieve once again. Rather than unsuccessfully convincing myself not to acknowledge the sting, I’ve learned to accept the heartache, shed a few tears and then, rise up.

2. Take the time to read through last year’s report. I was amazed to see, in print, how much Amos had accomplished. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the trees because the forest seems never ending.

3. Make a list of your child’s biggest accomplishments (at home or at school) and your child’s best personality traits. We did this as a family after dinner one evening, and it was nice to hear how we define success so differently. My oldest son was happy that Amos could hold a cup with one hand, while my daughter was proud that he would come with her when she told him to.

4. If you can, meet with the psychologist or any other team member ahead of time, so you know what to expect. Granted, I live in a small district, but when our psychologist requested a time to talk, I suggested lunch. She readily agreed and the informal setting made for a nice way to share my fears and hopes for the coming year.

5. Share your wants before meeting day. I began to talk about pre-K placement months ahead of our meeting. I think being honest about what you think will work best for your child can’t happen in one day. For me, I wanted to see Amos move to an inclusive setting, so I shared my thoughts well in advance so team members could also ponder how to make that happen.

6. Be an active member of the school community. My geneticist told me the best thing I could do for my son was to be PTA president. Truly, I try to give twice as much as I ask for, and being in and out of school allows for our family to be more than a number.

7. Write questions, concerns and comments down before the meeting. You will forget, if not. Also, number them in order of priority, because I think everyone listens more in the beginning.

8. Do not take your child. You want to have on your best listening ears, and any child, even one that is typically developing, can throw a wrench in what should be a fruitful conversation.

9. Ask a friend or someone you adore to come to the meeting with you. My husband can rarely make it, so this year, I took my mom. We had lunch beforehand and it made the meeting seem a little more lighthearted.

10. Firmly request a copy of the most recent IEP report and any testing prior to the meeting. This is a biggie and schools struggle with this request, but it is imperative that you have some time to read through details and testing related to your child.

Bonus: Expect the best. As I tell my typical kids, you decide if your glass is half full or half empty.

Adrian H. Wood, Ph.D., is a North Carolina writer who lives in Edenton with her husband and four children, the youngest of whom has extra-special needs. Read more of her writing at


Categories: Annual Guides, Education, Education Guide, Education Guide Resources, Special Needs