As a special needs parent I think we can all agree the panic we have felt before heading into these meetings. Even though I’ve sat through plenty for my own child, and many for clients as well these meetings always bring up nerves and jitters for parents. Here are some of my top tips for helping parents head into their next IEP meeting feeling less anxious and more confident.

1. Request your draft copy of the IEP in writing. Not all states require a draft copy of the IEP be sent to parents, but it is common practice to do so. I always remind my clients to request a draft copy of the proposed IEP in writing, most commonly in e-mail form one to two weeks ahead of the meeting. Receiving a draft copy ahead of time allows you time to look over the document and you can begin to take notes and write down your questions before your meeting.

2. Work on asking questions at the table instead of just disagreeing with the team. As you are reviewing your draft copy of your document, word your notes into question form, over a bullet-pointed list. By asking questions it opens up the conversation for collaboration as opposed to quick close-ended statements that turn the conversation to quiet dead ends. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking the “why” and “how” to get ideas flowing at the table towards a more collaborative solution.

3. Write a clear parent input letter. Writing a clear parent input letter after you’ve reviewed your draft IEP, or even before you request one from the team can help the team recognize your top concerns for your child. This statement should be the driving force for the team about what you want long-term and where you want to see your child go. This statement should also talk about what supports they need to be successful and can include suggestions from outside providers. Parent input statements should be submitted to the team ahead of the meeting so that this information can be added to the IEP document.

4. Familiarize yourself with the purpose of the IEP. The IEP or Individualized Education Program is laid out to prepare students for further education, independent living, and employment. Understanding that the IEP should be individualized to meet your child’s unique needs and is not a one size fits all document can really help shape out-of-the-box thinking strategies from parents, therapists, and teachers at the table during your meetings. I know first-hand sitting at the table can sometimes feel very “us vs. them” and as a master IEP coach, I work very hard to help make teams and parents work collaboratively.

Ultimately, we need to remember everyone at that table wants your child to succeed. Using the tips outlined above is a great place to start building your confidence at the IEP table.

This post originally appeared on Jackson's Journey, Jackson's Voice.