IEPs: 5 Mistakes Parents Make

By Pete Wright and Pam Wright


As your childs advocate on the IEP team, you do well to avoid these common mistakes that many parents unknowingly make Keep them in mind to prevent problems that can derail the process and impact your child negatively

When you attend an IEP meeting you have two main goals: to obtain quality special education services for your child and to build healthy working relationships with school personnel.

But many parents make mistakes that derail or delay their child’s progress toward these goals. By being aware of these mistakes and how costly they can be, you are more likely to avoid them. Following are five of the most common problems, which you can prevent simply by prior preparation and thinking through your reaction to these situations. 

1. Failing to make a long-term plan for your child’s education and the future.

Some parents don’t think about the future until it arrives. These parents don’t have long-range goals for their child. They dont think about what they want their child to be able to do when he leaves school. What will he need to know, and what skills must he acquire to prepare him for further education, employment, and independent living?

Think of your child’s special education as a long-term project. Having a plan will help you focus, anticipate problems, and prepare for the future.

Your plan should include academic and behavioral, social, and emotional goals, including hobbies, personal interests, sports and fitness, family, friendships, and the community. Your plan should be revisited and revised as your child grows.

2. Not understanding your child’s learning differences.

Some parents dont understand their childs disability, how the disability affects their learning, or how they need to be taught.

Bring to the meeting a well-researched, solid understanding of your childs learning challenges as well as your childs strengths. Without that knowledge you wont know what services and supports your child needs, whether they are making progress, or what steps are required to ensure that they receive an appropriate education.

3. Allowing school authorities to make decisions about your childs education.

Many parents assume school personnel are the experts and will make good decisions about how to educate their child. If you give over decision-making authority to school authorities, this will rarely lead to a good outcome for your child.

What will happen if the school has low expectations for your child? What will happen if you accept the school’s low expectations?

Children internalize their parent’s low expectations. Low expectations lead to low achievement.

If you don’t ensure that your child receives an appropriate education and learns the skills needed to be an independent, self-sufficient member of the community, you will have to deal with the outcome long after childhood ends.

4. Failing to keep your emotions under control.

As a parent, your emotions are likely to be your Achilles heel. If you are like many parents, when you learn your child has a disability, you turn to health care specialists and school personnel for help.

If you and the school disagree about what is appropriate for your child, you may feel shocked and angry. You may feel betrayed by the system you trusted. Once lost, trust is hard to regain.

5. Not documenting events and conversations in writing.

If the school did not provide agreed upon services to meet your child’s needs, how can you prove they offered to?

The most common mistake parents make is not writing things down when they happen. When you write things down in a letter, log, or journal, you are taking steps to protect your child‘s interests.

If the issue is important, the best way to document events and problems is by writing short polite notes and letters to the school. Describe what happened or what you were told. Use facts, not emotions. Your written notes will become part of your child’s file.

Be sure to keep a copy of all correspondence for your records.

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The article was adapted from the Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition by Pam Wright and Pete Wright.