How are you able to focus on strengths at an IEP? I can host an IEP meeting in my sleep. There are parts that I say every week.
“In the top right corner, you’ll see the IEP timelines. IEPs are written every year and evaluations are done every three years. These are the mandated dates but those might change based on progress or a transition to Kindergarten.”
“This is a working document. It’s really hard to guess how much he will grow between the ages of 2.5 to 3.5 so we can make any amendments we need to in the fall.”
“The following are special factors that we consider when we write an IEP for any child. If we check “yes” on these it is because we will address it in a later part of the document.”
I could go on, and on, and on, and on. But I won’t!
Those are all important parts of the IEP but if you’re new to holding an IEP meeting, there is something much more important! They are the parts that are NOT the same for every meeting. They’re the most important and they are student specific.
I can’t sit behind this keyboard and say I know what it feels like to be a parent in an IEP meeting, but I can imagine it is pretty hard. To sit and listen to all the things your child can’t, isn’t or won’t do at school. The most important thing you can do to set an IEP meeting off on the right foot, is to make sure there is plenty of conversation about the child’s strengths as well. Don’t get caught up in trying to hurry the meeting along. Spend the time to talk about why you have a special bond with the student, his/her areas of strength, something funny that happened recently, or just something you’ve noticed recently. Meetings that include these conversations first, seem to go smoothly.
I was recently in an evaluation meeting for a child with profound delays that leave his communication (and all other development) around the 6 month range. It was a tough meeting, but every single clinician, psychologist, and teacher focused on the strengths of the child instead of listing the three year old skills he should be doing. It was pretty incredible to hear our team do such a good job at this.
Here are my tips to focus on the strengths first.
- At an evaluation meeting, start by giving an overall statement of functioning. For me, getting that information out in the open first is easiest. Parents aren’t waiting to know if they qualify or not. State it as a fact. Don’t add “I’m sorry” or “unfortunately” to your statement.
- “Jenna demonstrates skills that are severely delayed compared to her peers”.
- Next, talk about all that the child can do and his/her strengths.
- “I know that isn’t a shock to you because communication was your primary concern during your referral for evaluation but it’s good to compare her to others and have confirmation. Today, I was really excited to see all the ways she is using language to communicate in her environment. We call those the functions of language. She only has 10 words, but she uses them in many different ways. She greets, gets your attention, protests, requests, teases, asks for help, etc. This is such as area of strength especially when we envision her in a classroom. One other area of strength, was her ability to sit and work with me! It’s hard for a three-year-old to sit but she did sit for 20 minutes at a time! I was really proud of her. That will be great when it’s time to work on those communication skills in speech therapy. Even though she has needs, which we will talk about in a minute, she has some really great strengths that will help her at school.”
- Be honest. Don’t give a false sense of hope or timeline. Don’t promise to cure a receptive language delay secondary to Autism in a year. On the other hand, make it clear to a parent who has a child with a simple articulation delay, that they will need a limited time of direct intervention. Remember that your prognosis doesn’t need to be specific (a specific number of months) and that if you give a specific timeline the parents are going to expect that to be true.
- “I can’t give you an exact answer about how long she will need speech. Right now, she demonstrates average cognitive skills (problem solving and receptive language skills) with delays in expressive language and fine motor. She has a lot of strengths and children with a similar profile often need several years of speech therapy throughout preschool to catch up to their peers but don’t need support once they are in elementary school. You’ll be able to see how she is progressing in the progress notes and we can talk about timelines at each IEP meeting.”
- When I give age equivalence, I try to talk about the way the student is currently functioning first, then highlight the next skills, then name the age.
- “When I look at her expressive language, Jenna is consistently imitating environment noises (like when she acted like a train today) and animal noises (she was the cutest duck in our song!). Developmentally, the next skills we’d like her to do is imitate single words with a word approximation. Those skills are things we would expect an 18 month old to do.”
- Summarize at the meeting by listing strengths, then weaknesses, and the next steps. That is the most important part! Name the goals and strategies you will use to improve the person’s communication.
- During an IEP meeting, focus on the strengths during the profile portion. Make sure you focus on the w hole child and not just academics.
- Highlight strengths for :
- Social skills
- Motivation/Work Ethic
- Strengths in learning styles (verbal, visual, kinesthetic)
- Academic strengths
- Self-advocacy skills (including self-monitoring)
- Following rules
- Fine Motor/Gross Motor
- Interests (art, history, etc.)
- Pride in his/her work
- Ability to organize work/self
- Being willing to take risks
- Critical Thinking Skills
- Class Participation
- Group Work
- Utilize strategies (positive self-talk, use visual schedule, etc.)
- During the Present Levels of Performance in the goal area, you can list strengths again that are specific to the goal area/objectives.
Remember that while you’re there to give information about areas of delay, focusing on the strengths is just as important.
Leave me a comment and let me know what you do to focus on the strengths.
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Great post! We too try to start each meeting with an overall statement of what our global recommendation would be (e.g., “your child qualifies for special education services under a Primary Disability of Speech-Language Impairment.”) I also like to share an anecdote, if I can, of something endearing or funny the child said or did. It seems to drop shoulders a bit and lets the parents know I SEE their child.
As a side note, I have a department head who expects meetings – even triennials with a full team present – to be no longer than 45 minutes. There is no way to do that AND to have a comfortable meeting leaving the stents feeling comfortable and trusting of the team. I want to print out this post for her!!
I totally agree! I love to make a joke or mention an anecdote too! It’s just the little things that make that personal connection between parents and staff that make a difference!
How much time do you allow for initial, annual, and triennal IEP meetings typically? I have attended 100s of IEP meetings but next year is the first time I will be leading one. Thanks for your great, detailed suggestions with specific examples.
I love this post! My way of handling IEP meetings has greatly changed since one of my own kids has required an IEP. As a parent, you know your child is struggling. You know what he can’t do. It is still hard to hear someone confirm it though. It’s great for the focus to be on what he can do and the progress he is making from those that work with him. Keep up the good work!
What a great reminder to focus on what the child can do and were we are going to build from that baseline.
Monica Faherty says
Thank you for listing specific areas that can be addressed. Our IEPs begin with student strengths and I will do a better job of mentioning areas other than language and academics.