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Commentary: Parents of special-needs students must be proactive

October 23, 2013|By Miranda K. Andersen

The new school year is in full swing and it's time to review your child's Individual Education Plan.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, guarantees special education for children who have disabilities. For parents of a special-needs child, an Individual Education Plan, or IEP, is the foundation for their child to excel in school and benefit from their education.

Often parents of special-needs children become overwhelmed in the special-education process as they learn about their child's disability and how to achieve the best education for that child.

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If you are such a parent, you should have already met with the school IEP team. But if not, below are a few tips to help you through an IEP meeting:

1.) Stay organized. Even if you are new to the special-education system, you have certainly realized that voluminous documents and paperwork are part of your child's education plan. Therefore, an organized system is necessary. I suggest a large, three-ring binder with labeled tabs to enable you to quickly look up documents. A great way to organize would be by year and within each year to further tab assessments, IEP documents and correspondence with your child's teachers and the district. Organization is especially helpful when you attend IEP meetings, so you are better able to follow along and access the documents you want to refer to.

2.) Know your rights. Knowing your rights, or rather your child's rights, is most important in special education. I taught a seminar on the IEP process and was shocked at how many parents were misled on their rights or were just left in the dark in regards to their child's education. Research your rights and keep up to date on current cases affecting special-education law. There are great websites that provide materials for parents such as disabilityrightsca.org and wrightslaw.com.

3.) Make a list of topics and questions to discuss at the IEP meeting. Before any meeting with your district to discuss your child's education, make sure to make a list of questions and topics you would like to discuss. You may even want to put sticky notes on sections of your child's assessments or IEP with questions or topics so that you may make reference to those documents as they are discussed. Do not hesitate to ask to have a follow-up meeting if you were not able to discuss all the topics you had written down.

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