Parents who suspect their child may have a disability often find that the process for receiving services is much more complex than they anticipated. Questions and anxieties can arise, such as, “What do these acronyms being used during the meetings mean?” or “Will my child be successful if they have a disability?”
Maryland Learning Links has compiled 52 tips to help families and service providers alike hold successful and smooth IFSP and IEP meetings. One tip each week will be shared on the Maryland Learning Links Facebook and Twitter pages, and the tips will also be listed below throughout the year for your reference.
What Is an IFSP or an IEP?
To start, let’s define both of these processes. An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is both a process and document provided if your child is eligible for early intervention services. It is designed to provide you with strategies to support your child’s development during typical routines and activities that you have identified as important for your family.
Your child might need an IFSP if they have a developmental delay or have a specific health condition that could lead to a delay, including genetic disorders, birth defects, and hearing loss. IFSP plans are family-centered, with services usually provided in settings typical for children of the same chronological age. This includes the home- and community-based settings, such as a child care center.
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed for children determined to be eligible for special education and related services under one of 14 disability categories:
- Developmental Delay
- Emotional Disability
- Hearing Impairment, including deafness
- Intellectual Disability
- Multiple Disabilities
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Other Health Impairment
- Specific Learning Disability
- Speech or Language Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Visual Impairment, including blindness
The IEP describes goals and objectives identified and agreed on by IEP team members, including parents, for a child during the school year. Also included in the IEP are any special supports or accommodations needed to help the child make progress, and are all provided at no cost to families of children through their local school system. IEPs are designed for children ages 3 to 21; after age 14, the IEP will include the development of a secondary transition plan.
Now, let’s go through each of the 52 tips for successful IFSP and IEP meetings.
Preparing for Meetings
- Parents: Keep an open dialogue with your child care provider or your child’s teacher if they are school age. They are a valuable resource in knowing what you can expect or not in typical child development stages. They can often recommend whether testing for disabilities is needed. Contact the Maryland Infants and Toddlers Program for a screening meeting to begin this process.
- Parents: Even if your teacher or child care provider doesn’t immediately recommend testing, listen to your instincts. You have the right to ask for testing from the school or child care center. Send a written request for evaluation to your child’s principal that outlines your concerns. Download a letter template on this page.
- Professionals: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act details specific timelines for the IFSP and IEP processes, which begins with the first contact/phone call. Ensure that families understand the purpose of early intervention services: that children are active participants in their homes and their communities, and families are empowered to be advocates and able to support their children in achieving great outcomes.
- Teachers: Talk to the parents or guardians before the first IFSP or IEP meeting. Explain the process of the meeting so they know what to expect, and talk about the professionals who completed their child’s testing. Make sure they understand that this process is focused on helping the child and the parent.
- Teachers: Give families a list of common terms and acronyms that will be used during the process before your first IFSP or IEP meeting. Encourage them to ask questions about all unfamiliar terms and acronyms.
- Parents: It’s important to understand that you are welcome to bring your own questions, ideas, and concerns to each meeting. You don’t have to wait for other members of the team to bring up a topic. Let the school know if you have additional topics for the agenda or if you are bringing anyone with you to the meeting.
- Parents: Come to the IFSP or IEP meeting with an understanding of the service delivery models so you can engage in an open discussion about the most appropriate approach for your family and child.
- Parents: The Maryland Infants and Toddlers Program has created a guide to understanding the IFSP process that can help you prepare for the coming months.
- Parents: Gather knowledge about how the IFSP or IEP can support your child. What does your child do well, and what do they need help with? Be a partner in this process with the school staff and district specialists.
- Parents: Explore resources like Maryland Learning Links as guidance for your meetings! Access our IEP archive here and the IFSP archive here.
- Parents: Review any recommendations made in the evaluation reports. This information can give you an idea of the goals and objectives to address, and spark questions. Feel free to ask questions about why a recommendation may not be incorporated into a goal or objective.
- Parents: As you’re reviewing documents provided by the school system, give yourself enough time to understand the information and view it objectively before the meeting. This can be done by reviewing documents multiple times over several days.
- Parents: After reviewing your Prior Written Notice or other documents, call the Parents’ Place of Maryland or your Local Family Support Coordinator with any questions. Ask about language you don’t understand and discuss different options. They can help you become more prepared for upcoming meetings.
- Parents: Make notes of any questions or concerns you may have as you think of them. Jot them down and bring them with you so you don’t forget to address them during your meeting.
- Parents: Public schools offer services through an educational model. It is important to understand the difference between a clinical diagnosis and a school identification so that you understand the instruction your child will receive as part of the IEP process. Access a helpful breakdown of the differences here.
- Parents: Assistive Technology (AT) is any device that helps an individual do what they cannot do on their own. This could be anything from pencil grips to speech-to-text apps. First, identify where your child might need help, and then research what could help your child. Come to your meetings ready to discuss. Use the Johns Hopkins University Assistive Technology Cycle as a guide.
- Parents: Have a clear understanding of your child’s current challenges and the goals you have in mind for them before your first IFSP meeting so you can share with the team. For example: “My daughter can eat with a fork and spoon, but has trouble cutting food.” Or, “My son communicates verbally, but can be hard to understand.”
- Parents: Feel free to ask for help outside of your regular IEP team if you need it. Parents’ Place of Maryland and your Local Family Support Coordinators can help with specific questions, and the Maryland Disability Law Center has a comprehensive IEP guide for general inquiries.
Navigating the Meetings
19. Professionals: Paperwork is important. However, remember to keep the child – not just the paperwork – as the focus at the start of and throughout each meeting.
20. Parents: Be your child’s advocate. Come in with ideas and questions – you should feel empowered to share these during the meeting, while also being open to the input from the school personnel.
21. Parents: Many parents are eager to know their child’s placements right away. Keep in mind that special education is a service, not a place. The IEP should help support your child’s needs in the Least Restrictive Environment.
22. Parents: Bringing a third party to meetings is an option to help take notes, provide another perspective, or simply be a support to you. You can invite your child care provider, private tutors, your pediatrician, a friend, or you can hire a professional parent advocate through Parents’ Place of Maryland.
23. Teachers: Seat yourself next to the parents so you can reassure them or explain anything for them. Remember, this process is most effective when families, teachers, and the school system function in a partnership.
24. Parents: Secondary transition documents may introduce new abbreviations or technical language into your child’s IEP meetings, such as adult agency abbreviations, formal and informal transition assessment abbreviations, or language summarizing the assessment and any secondary transition goals and transition activity statements. Ask for clarity around these terms at any time, especially as they relate to the outcomes that are being planned for your child.
25. Parents: Take your time. Feel free to ask questions, ask for clarification about the services your child receives, understand why the decisions of the IEP team are made, and if the team does not agree with your suggestions and comments, make sure you understand why. If needed, you may request another meeting to discuss your concerns.
26. Parents: You have a voice and a critical decision-making role throughout the whole special education process. You know your child best – be sure to ask questions and never stop advocating for your child in a professional, productive way.
27. Teams: Include the child in secondary transition meetings starting at age 14. The process is child-centered.
Reinforcing the Child’s Goals