I have numbers of friends who are about to go through the IEP Process. And I'm hoping that other parents of special needs kids end up stumbling upon this sight and get helpful information.
So I've decided to put my list of recommendations for preparing for the IEP.
1. Take a class in preparing for the IEP. In California, the Regional Center offers these. It's one night a week for 4 or 5 weeks. But it's worth it because it starts you thinking about things you don't wish to think about.
2. Buy a book. The Complete IEP Guide is one. Buy it. Read it. It may help.
3. Put together your BINDER. Now you don't have to do this last minute like I did. In fact, I recommend that you don't. But with special needs kids there are LOTS of reports and assessments from therapists and doctors. Gather these. Make up a medical history for your child. On there put meds that they have taken and ones they are currently taking. List hospital visits. Make a list of Key Contacts-doctors, therapists, parents.
TABLE OF CONTENTS: This binder ends up BIG, so make a table of contents so you know where your stuff is. I swiped mine from Julie. The headings were Key Information, Medical Information, Federal/State Services, Educational Reports, Therapy Reports.
COVER SHEETS for each section. And if you're feeling fancy (which I was) cover sheets for your reports, etc. It makes things easier to find.
COLOR CODED SLEEVES: Instead of three-hole punching everything (which will drive you mad) get color coded sleeves you can just slip the paperwork in. Office Depot has packages of them. One of Julie's totally awesome ideas!
MAKE COPIES of all your paperwork and put them in the sleeves as well. Have them on hand to give to the IEP Team. Even if you think you've given everyone everything thing, there's always someone who didn't get something. Have your originals. But also have your copies.
And then put in PICTURES!!!! Get the picture pages. Or do a composite on the computer if you're that savvy. Remember, this is about YOUR CHILD, not just some faceless person with a diagnosis.
Julie hadn't done pictures when I saw her binder and I told her about the great response the team had to Soren's. So not only did Julie put in photos, so put together the lovliest handout about Camille I've ever seen. And I am SO going to do this for Soren's next IEP. Along side photos, Julie listed HOPES AND DREAMS they have for Camille. She also described Camille's PERSONALITY. She listed Camille's STRENGTHS, CHALLENGES, and CONSIDERATIONS that should be taken on her behalf.
At the IEP, the parents should be given the opportunity to say what their goals are for their child. Julie's handout idea totally encapsulates this. Brilliant!
4. In putting the binder together, don't forget that you should keep all your correspondence with stage agencies and school districts in writing. This means, if you email someone, you should print out that email and file it providing proof of this correspondence. If you speak on the phone, send a letter restating what was spoken about. I know it's a pain, but it can save your back.
5. Pull together your team. The school district has theirs. Make sure you have people backing you up as well. It's good to have others who have spent a long period of time watching your child grow and change. But keep in mind that you have to inform the school district of people you are bringing along.
6. GET AN ADVOCATE!!!!! The IEP can be very emotional. You may not be thinking clearly enough to ask all the key questions. It's good to have someone who is not emotionally attached and still has your child's best interest at heart. And if you can get someone who specializes in your child's medical issue, even better. Our advocate specialized in kids with brain injuries, so she knew the ins and outs of that subject matter.
7. DON'T SIGN THE IEP!!!!! If they pressure you, stand your ground. You should be given a copy that you can look over for a few days. Even if you get EVERYTHING you think you wanted. Our IEP lasted 2 1/2 hours. My friends' lasted 5 hours! Everyone is a little bleary eyed after that. We really did get everything we wanted, but we took the IEP home and found a few minor errors. Would they have affected the outcome of Soren's IEP? No. But when you are signing something that is legally binding everything should be in order.
8. Move to Glendale so you can be in the GUSD cause they were the BEST.
Okay, I know this isn't possible for everyone. However, I DO have a friend who recently moved from their house in Silverlake to an apartment in Glendale JUST so they could get into the same class that Soren is in. But for the rest of you, really look into the schools that would be appropriate for your child. Take a tour, meet teachers, ask questions. It's your right as a tax payer and as a parent.
I hope this helps. And feel free to ask me questions if I haven't covered something.