The IEP "Test"

The unspoken rules of an IEP meeting.

By Pat Linkhorn, author of Off the Fence

There is a protocol that parents are expected to adhere to when they attend meetings with professionals. I think they have an unwritten code where the parent is expected to score at least 85% before they are taken seriously. Unfortunately, this protocol is not shared with parents. We are expected to know all the right moves and have all the right answers without being told what the moves nor the questions are.

If we're going to be judged, we at least need to be aware of the fact. When they send out the forms notifying us of a meeting, they should include a checklist that lists how we should act at this meeting. Their checklist might look like this:

  1. Please be on time, even if we're not.
  2. Please wear decent clothes.
  3. Plan to have this meeting over with in half an hour.
  4. Don't surprise us with new or different goals.
  5. Agree with us. We ARE the professionals.
  6. Don't whine or cry.
  7. Come alone.
  8. Sign where we tell you to.
  9. Leave your kids with a sitter.
  10. Act appreciative of our time.
  11. Don't interrupt us when we're speaking.
  12. Never raise your voice.

This may seem like a formidable list, but I assure you, there are ways to comply with most of the criteria. Just do the following:

  1. Being on time is in your best interest. It's a common courtesy for any appointment or meeting. Arriving early is even better.
  2. Wearing decent clothes will make you feel more confident and perhaps less intimidated.
  3. If the meeting ends with unresolved issues at the end of the half hour, ask if you can schedule another half hour meeting later.
  4. If you have been presented with a preview of the goals and objectives before the meeting (which should be done), make sure that you've mailed your changes to them before this meeting.
  5. You can always say, "I agree with what you're saying to a degree, but might I suggest ...?"
  6. Whining or crying is never acceptable. It puts you at a disadvantage and it's embarrassing. Try to avoid doing this.
  7. Request, in writing, to tape record the meeting prior to the meeting. Tell them you don't trust yourself to be able to remember everything that's said. They will probably agree to bringing another person.
  8. Never, never sign in a space where you're not supposed to! (We're stretching the rule on this one!)
  9. It's better for you if you can leave your other kids at home. You need to be able to concentrate fully on this meeting.
  10. It never hurts, and only helps, to thank people for their time. It's another common courtesy.
  11. Again, common courtesy dictates that you shouldn't interrupt anyone.
  12. Raising your voice makes you appear unreasonable and you DO want to pass the test, don't you? People tend to respond better to requests made in a reasonable manner.

So, now you know the rules. Although I realize that meetings will get out of control at times and don't always work out the way you want them to, you now know the answers necessary to ace the test.

Pat Linkhorn is a professional advocate for families with children who have special needs. She is the author of Off the Fence. She is also experienced parent and has two girls with special needs - autism and blindness due to prematurity. Visit her website.