Okay, so you have your IEP meeting scheduled and the team is preparing to assemble. Now its time to get ready. Most school districts are not going to volunteer any services, so you need to be clear about what you need going in. If possible, include your spouse or partner, and talk about what supports your child will need.

Prior to the meeting you need to write a Present Level of Performance, or PLOP. This is your chance to say something good about your child. I was lucky enough to attend a wonderful class on writing a PLOP at our local Parent Resource Center. I learned a number of strategies for presenting my son’s challenges in a positive way. The real key, I have found, is to search for causes. For example, my son is very active. However, his activity level has 2 causes. One positive, his natural curiosity, and one negative, his sensory overload. So, in his PLOP, I characterize him as being curious but suggest support for his sensory overload. You can download my son’s PLOP if you need an example.

First you must establish goals. Typically goals will require some sort of baseline report showing a deficit. Most schools will offer to do an assessment. We have always shied away from this, as we feel that school personnel training is primarily geared toward educational deficits. Add to that the fact that they are not doctors, or at least not medical doctors and you can figure out why we have always tried to have evaluations and assessments done outside of the school system. Sometimes it has cost us extra money, as our insurance doesn’t cover everything. However, having documentation to back up your claims is often necessary to get the school system to do what is necessary for your child. The goals will be established at the table by the team. I mention it here because you will need to have any evaluations and assessments you want to share available for the IEP.

Goals will typically be centered around speech and language deficits, inabilities to function in the classroom or other issues specific to your child. Our IEP has 20 goals, and they range from simple language based goals to complex social goals. Try to have an idea going in of what goals you have for your child. Do you want him to speak appropriately at his current age? Do you want him to sit still in class for 30 minute increments without assistance? Do you want him to engage his peers in a typical fashion several times throughout the day? Goals are where you put that stuff into writing.

Let’s talk about supports. Asking for support is a very appropriate way to quantify your child’s needs. For example, saying “my son has autism” doesn’t mean anything to an IEP team. However, saying “My son needs support with his academics because he has difficulty understanding the teacher” gives the team a direction to go. I would actually recommend being even more specific. For example, our son has sensory needs, and when we asked for support we were very specific. His IEP reads “sensory breaks every 30-45 minutes.” The more specific you are the easier it will be to implement your child’s IEP, or, worst case, determine if it has not been implemented.

Common supports are:

Speech therapy
Occupational Therapy
Physical Therapy
Applied Behavioral Therapy
Assistive Technology

I have always felt that a kid with a speech delay needs speech therapy 5 days a week. We have 3 days of speech at the school and we had, until recently, 2 days of speech outside the school. Our son has sensory issues, so we do 1 day of OT in school and 2 outside of school. However, we also have OT consult time built in to his IEP so the OT can help make his environment more sensory friendly. We don’t do PT or ABA but know other families who do.

Assistive technology is tougher to get. Some kids who have severe language delays can qualify for an alphasmart, or other text based communication devices. Our son uses an FM device to help with his auditory processing delay. This is simply a pair of noise cancelling headphones plugged into a small receiver. His teacher wears the microphone, and it helps him isolate her voice from the rest of the background noise.

These are just some of the options available. Get out there and talk to other parents. Network and find out what is working for other kids, then incorporate what you think will work into your action plan. Next up: Sitting down at the table for the IEP.