Inside: Learn my #1 advocacy secret to reducing IEP meeting stress.

I was waiting in the lobby. Mom pulled into the parking lot, made her way towards me. “I’m so nervous!” she whispered.

“Don’t be. We got this.” And we did. My mind drifted to other parents in our group who often express similar sentiments before a meeting.

iep meeting stress

And then walking back towards the room for the IEP meeting, I had an a-ha moment.

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How to Stop Stressing over IEP Meetings

This was my 3rd or 4th meeting with Mom. I am emotionally invested in this client. Sure, not as much as Mom, but still.

So why was she so nervous and I wasn’t? Not just because I’m an advocate, right?

Well, sort of. I felt like Oprah. I have an everyday secret that is such an a-ha moment.

aha moment

The reason that I no longer stress out over IEP meetings is because…….

As an advocate, I’ve learned that the IEP meeting is pretty much the least important part of the process.


No, really, it is.

Think about it. We invest all this time, energy and emotion into this one meeting…and for the most part, it’s irrelevant. Ok, not irrelevant, but it certainly is not worthy of the amount of emotional weight we give it.

IEPs vs. IEP Meetings

It doesn’t really matter what is said in the IEP meeting. I mean, to some extent, it does.

But what matters more is:

  • What the child’s evaluations say.
  • If the right amount of the right evaluations have been done.
  • How the child’s Present Levels section reads.
  • that the child’s goals are appropriate, and the SDIs adequate to meet those goals.
  • IDEA timelines and procedures are being followed, as far as evaluations, discipline, etc.
  • If the child is learning and making progress, and how that progress is monitored.
  • the data shows presumed competence and school is using LRE.

For all of these bullet points, I knew we had the data on our side. I’d read the IEPs, the report cards, and the evaluation reports. We had data on our side.

School had just misread the parent on an issue, and wanted to take the easy way out on something.

We called them on it. And we had data on our side. But if you didn’t know this, the school likely would have said “no!” again.

As an advocate, I’ve learned to line up my ducks before I ask for something. Unless someone is withholding information from me or the family, I’m not surprised at IEP meetings. Not by data or asks or rejections, anyway.

It is similar to why a Special Education Attorney tells you yes or no before taking your case. They look at your records first and see if you even have the data you need.

The Secret to Stress-Free IEP Meetings

I’m going to put my neck out there and give this bit of advice to parents: If you are doing the IEP process correctly with your team, the IEP meeting should be nothing but a formality and time to bounce around new ideas.

Yes, the spirit of the IDEA says that IEPs are drawn up by an IEP team at a meeting. In today’s climate, that is not feasible. IEPs are much more complex and data-driven than they were when IDEA was first passed in 1975.

Predetermination is not allowed. Working collaboratively with all parts of the IEP team and doing pre-work is allowed. Make sure you know the difference. Know how to properly prepare for an IEP meeting.

School staff are not stressed at meetings, are they? Not usually. Because they either know they have data on their side, or they know that you don’t know this secret.

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IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. Program. Not meeting. If you are letting the IEP begin and end with an annual meeting, you are doing your child and yourself a huge disservice.

You need to be participating in ALL 5 parts of the IEP process. You need to be submitting that parent concerns letter-EVERY TIME. You need to be following up every single meeting with an email. Every one.

Read everything that comes home. Read the emails, read the communication log.

The knowledge base I wish I didn’t have to have.

I could talk about IEPs all day long. I still hate them. It’s just a necessary part of my household. It’s what we do.

Own it. Immerse yourself in it. Expect it of other team members too. Embrace this philosophy, and you have no more reason to stress or worry about IEP meetings. Because you’ll know what to expect, for the most part.

My son’s IEP meeting is in 6 weeks or so. Yesterday I received his new {proposed} BIP. Before Christmas, I sent my parent concerns. I’ve heard from one other therapist and I’m confident I will be hearing from the others. If I don’t, I will contact them the week before.

Then, the day of the meeting, it’s really just a formality. We just hammer out the kinks and make sure that each department and discipline knows what the other is doing. We make sure that each component is being looked at from all angles.

And that’s it.

My meetings are pretty short considering how high needs my child is.

So why do we stress out over IEP meetings?

There are many reasons we stress out over IEP meetings. But, a huge part of it is this–we think, as parents, that the IEP meeting is the “end all, be all” as far as deciding what our child is going to get.

But guess what? IT’S NOT.

Because here’s the thing–there shouldn’t be any surprises at an IEP meeting. Really, there shouldn’t.

If there are huge surprises at yours, either you are not following the process (like springing it on them that you want a 1:1 aide) or they aren’t. Because if they’ve been following the process and have open communication with you during IEP development, the IEP meeting is a giant nothing-burger.

Even if your team is hostile and not receptive to ongoing communication, this can be done. There still should be no surprises (ergo no real reasons to stress out!) at your IEP meeting. The outcome is still the same, whether they tell you in person or via email and documentation.

It might be easier for them to say ‘no’ to you when 10 of their peers are at their side, but that still will not change the status of the data trail they have to back up their rejection.

They still owe you a PWN. What is discussed at the IEP meeting still does not matter unless it is documented via a PWN. That’s why I say it over and over and over. Write it down.

You can do this, you can.

So, who’s with me?

This year, resolve to fully immerse yourself in this and stop the stress. Consider my online advocacy training.

IEP Meeting Norms

Here are more things you might see happen at an IEP meeting. Some are legit and totally called for. Others….are not.

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