What to Expect for Your Initial IEP/ARD Meeting
Updated: Jan 29
As an educator for over 10 years, I have seen so many parents (friends and family included) stress about their child not doing well and question whether their child should be tested for Special Education services. Questions like “What should I expect from Special Education services?” and “Is this the best choice for them?” always come up so today I’m here to help answer those questions, and hopefully, manage your expectations.
First, in this initial post, I want to prepare you for the significant amount of time that it can take. Most places usually have a time frame of around 45 school days for the analysis to be completed. And if Special Education is being recommended for your child, the school has an additional 15 days to then set up an IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting, or an ARD (Admission, Review, Dismissal) meeting if you reside in Texas. So even if you have requested the testing, you should expect that it will take 2-3 months to be finalized. You should receive a copy of the testing results at least 3 days (best practice is 5) prior to the IEP or ARD meeting, as well as a copy of your parental rights, in order for you to have time to look over the results.
Now, these results can be heavy. Whether your child is recommended for Special Education or not, seeing the strengths and weaknesses your child has listed in black and white, can be distressing. Remember that you are pursuing the best course of action to help your child, so take a deep breath. It will be ok. Also, if you have any outside paperwork from a doctor or mental health professional, please bring a copy of that information to the school, preferably prior to the testing, but the meeting is fine too. On occasion, that will be accepted in lieu of testing done through the school.
In the meeting itself, there may be quite a few people, so it can seem intimidating. But keep in mind, they are your child’s team and that they should have your child’s best interests in mind. If you don’t feel that way, then speak up. You know your child best, so in that respect, YOU are the expert on your child! You should have received a copy of your rights prior to the meeting, if you haven’t you need to request a copy and reschedule the meeting.
On average, there are 5-10 people attending the meeting, but I’ve had as many as 18 people in a meeting, and we even had another call in. Each team member will go over their role on the team, the proposed goals that they have designed based on your child’s testing results, a schedule for their time with your child, among other things for your learner, such as necessary accommodations or devices. This team will be different for each child however, it should consist of at least one administrator, a special education teacher, a general education teacher, and usually a diagnostician (at least for this initial meeting). Any other services for which your child may qualify will also need to be in attendance such as: Speech, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Music Therapy, Audio or Visual, and the list goes on.
Now that you are prepped for the craziness of an IEP/ARD, be prepared to be mentally exhausted afterwards. You are having a lot of information thrown at you, so I suggest taking notes in whatever way makes you comfortable. Yes, you should have had the information prior to the meeting, but when everyone is talking about schedules, and goals, modifications, accommodations, and expectations for your child, it can become very overwhelming. Also, Special Education is heavy with acronyms, so here are two lists of some common ones to help you prepare: Sped Acronym Quick Reference Guide and Sped Acronyms and Glossary of Terms .
If you’re uncertain about something in the meeting, ask questions. Remember, you are your child’s advocate at this point, do not let anyone force you into anything. You do not have to sign any paperwork that you are not comfortable with. For example, if you have witnessed your child doing something (independently, of course) that they claim he or she cannot do, video it and send it to them.
If you agree to what they have proposed, that’s great! Then they will probably ask you to waive your 5 days in order to start services immediately. The 5 days is an option available for you to take everything home and review it for 5 days, you do not have to take this if you agree. Should you decide to take this 5 days, that’s totally ok. Sometimes as a teacher, I left meetings wiped and overwhelmed when I first started too. Take your five days to decompress and look over the information, that's built in for a reason.
There is also a common misconception that this information cannot be changed. If it gets to be 3 or 4 months into the school year and the teacher realizes the learner will not make the goals, or perhaps will exceed them, then they are required to set up another meeting to adjust accordingly. You should be updated with progress reports as well, so you will be able to more or less see their growth. If you are seeing concerns of regression or that they are surpassing the set goals, you are able to call for a meeting as well. Remember, you are part of this team and you have a say in your child’s education. Speak up!
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**I will have to go more in-depth in a later post, but I want to specify that this information is written with the procedures from the state of Texas in mind. That being said, laws can change and make sure you are referring to your district's procedural safeguards. Just in case though, here is the TEA link to help: