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Empowering Special Needs Students: How to advocate for your child at an IEP meeting (2023)

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

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Walking into an IEP meeting can feel like heading into battle. You're armed with assessments, reports, and a fierce determination to ensure your child receives the support they need to thrive.

But how do you transform that bundle of nerves and passion into an effective advocacy strategy? Welcome to your comprehensive guide for navigating the IEP process.

From pre-meeting preparations, dealing with disagreement during the meeting, to dispute resolution when there's a lack of consensus, we're here to help you stand up for your child's educational rights. So, let's dive right in and equip you with the knowledge and strategies you need to confidently advocate for your child at an IEP meeting.

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What should a parent do before an IEP meeting to prepare?

Before an IEP meeting, a parent should take several steps to ensure they are well-prepared to advocate for their child's needs effectively:

Prepare a list of questions and concerns

Write down any questions or concerns you have about your child's education, so you can address them during the meeting.

Consider bringing a support person

If you think it will be helpful, bring a friend, family member, or advocate who can provide emotional support or additional insights during the meeting.

Practice self-care and manage stress

IEP meetings can be emotional and stressful, so make sure to engage in self-care activities leading up to the meeting and practice stress management techniques to help you stay focused and calm during the discussion.

Review your child's current IEP, evaluations, and progress reports

Understand your child's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, as well as any challenges they may face.

Gather information about your child's needs and strengths

Collect any relevant medical records, therapy reports, or other documentation that highlights your child's unique abilities and challenges.

Develop a list of goals and accommodations for your child

Based on your child's needs, strengths, and challenges, create a list of specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for the upcoming IEP period, as well as any necessary accommodations or services.

Organize your materials

Put together a binder or folder with all the relevant documentation, such as your child's IEP, evaluations, medical records, therapy reports, and any other important documents. Bring this to the meeting to help you stay organized and refer to specific information as needed.

Decide whether or not you would like to record the meeting

Recording an IEP meeting can provide an accurate record of the discussions and decisions made, ensuring clarity and accountability. It also allows parents to share the information with family members or specialists who could not attend the meeting, offering additional insights and support.

What format does an IEP typically follow?

While district and school meeting orders may vary, the provided outline below includes typical protocols & discussion points:

  • Introductions: Each invididual is introduced, as well as their area of expertise.

  • IEP review: Discuss current progress on goals and accommodations. Each team member will share their area of service.

  • Parent input: This is your opportunity to share concerns and observed progress about each area of need as well as ask the team any questions you may have.

  • Development of new goals: Collaboratively set specific goals and strategies. Team may come with drafted goals, but you have the opportunity to share your concerns and ideas.

  • Services and accommodations: Review current supports for classroom and testing environments. Add or modify to best support the student.

  • Placement and LRE: Decide on appropriate educational placement. They will talk about "least restrictive environment" to be sure the student is provided the least amount of support necessary to be independent and make appropriate progress. This includes minutes and location of services. You can advocate for more or less time as you feel necessary.

  • Transition Planning: If applicable, discussion of future goals/needs or transition to another school, program, job or post-secondary program.

  • Notes & Signatures: Notes will be written throughout the meeting and signatures will be required. You can ask for the notes to be read aloud to be sure they appropriately documented your concerns and questions.

  • Conclusion: Summary of meeting, next steps, and discussion of follow-up meetings when necessary.

Note: A 504 meeting may be less formal but will still include current academic/behavioral progress, parent and team input, and the development of new accommodations.

What should a parent do in an IEP meeting if the school district minimizes or denies their child's challenges?

If a parent encounters a situation where the school district minimizes or denies their child's challenges during an IEP meeting, they should take the following steps:

Stay calm and focused

It's essential to remain composed during the meeting, even when emotions may run high. Keep the focus on your child's needs and best interests.

Present documentation

Share any relevant records, evaluations, or reports that demonstrate your child's challenges and needs. This may include medical records, therapy reports, or assessments from outside professionals.

Ask for clarification

Politely request an explanation for the school district's stance on your child's challenges, and engage in an open dialogue to better understand their perspective.

What do I do if the school is unresponsive to my requests and I do not agree with the IEP?

If the school is unresponsive to your requests and you do not agree with the IEP, consider taking the following steps:

Request a Follow-Up Meeting

Politely request another IEP meeting to address your concerns and discuss any unresolved issues. Make sure to clearly outline your concerns and provide any additional documentation that supports your position.

Consult with an Advocate or Specialist

Seek guidance from a special education advocate, an attorney, or an experienced professional in the field of your child's disability. They can provide valuable advice, resources, and support in navigating the IEP process.

Engage in the Dispute Resolution Process

If your concerns remain unaddressed after the follow-up meeting, you may consider using the dispute resolution options available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These options include mediation, filing a complaint with your state's education agency, or requesting a due process hearing.

Maintain Open Communication

Keep the lines of communication open with the school staff and IEP team members. Express your concerns respectfully and consistently, and work collaboratively towards a resolution that best meets your child's needs.

Document All Communication

Keep a record of all correspondence, meetings, and phone calls with the school and IEP team members. This documentation may be helpful in demonstrating your efforts to resolve the issues and can serve as evidence in case of any legal proceedings.

Throughout the process, remember that your primary goal is to ensure your child receives the appropriate support and accommodations to succeed in their education. Remain patient, persistent, and focused on your child's best interests.

How can I let the IEP team know I am recording the IEP meeting?

To let the IEP team know that you plan to record the IEP meeting, follow these steps:

1. Check local and state regulations:

Before recording any meeting, familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations governing audio or video recording in your area. Some states require consent from all parties involved, while others may have specific rules for recording IEP meetings.

2. Review your school district's policies:

Check your school district's policies regarding recording IEP meetings, as they may have specific guidelines or requirements that you need to follow.

3. Provide advance notice:

Notify the school and IEP team members in writing (e.g., via email or letter) that you plan to record the meeting. Make sure to send the notice well in advance, ideally at least a week before the scheduled meeting. Clearly state your reasons for recording, such as wanting an accurate record of the discussion to refer to later or to share with a family member or specialist who cannot attend the meeting.

4. Reiterate your intent at the start of the meeting:

As the meeting begins, remind the IEP team members that you will be recording the meeting, and ask for their consent if required by your local regulations. This will help ensure transparency and maintain a collaborative atmosphere during the meeting.

5. Use a reliable recording device:

Bring a reliable and unobtrusive audio or video recording device to the meeting. Set it up in a way that ensures all participants are aware of the recording but does not disrupt the meeting.

6. Be respectful and considerate:

Throughout the meeting, maintain a respectful and collaborative attitude with all IEP team members. Recording the meeting should not be perceived as a sign of mistrust, but rather as a tool to help ensure accurate documentation of the discussion and decisions made.

Remember, your goal is to work collaboratively with the IEP team to develop the best possible plan for your child. Communicating your intent to record the meeting respectfully and transparently can help maintain a positive and cooperative atmosphere during the meeting.

How can I record the meeting if it is being held online?

To record an online IEP meeting, first notify the school and IEP team members in writing about your intention to record and familiarize yourself with the online platform's recording features.

At the beginning of the meeting, remind the team members about the recording and obtain any necessary consent. Use the platform's built-in recording feature to capture both audio and video, ensuring all participants are visible and audible.

After the meeting, save the recording securely to protect the privacy of the participants and the information discussed. Maintain a respectful and collaborative attitude throughout the process to support your child's education.

This is an infograph showing specific tasks for parents to advocate for their child's IEP

Check out our other helpful articles related to this topic:

What are my next steps?

Incorporating Executive Function (EF) coaching as a related service in a child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) can significantly benefit them by providing individualized support tailored to their unique needs, leading to improved academic performance, enhanced social-emotional skills, and increased self-confidence.

As the child develops better EF skills, they can more effectively navigate various aspects of their life, including transitioning to higher education and professional settings. By addressing specific challenges and fostering essential skills early on, EF coaching can ultimately contribute to better long-term outcomes for the child's personal growth, academic success, and overall well-being.

If you are interested in learning more about how EF coaching services can help your child or would like assistance with advocating for these services in your child's IEP, we encourage you to reach out to EF Specialists. We can provide valuable insights, guidance, and support to help you navigate the process and ensure your child receives the targeted assistance they need to thrive. Don't hesitate to take the first step towards empowering your child to reach their full potential. Contact EF Specialists today!

Are you a family with a special needs student in California? If so, check out these helpful resources:

NPAs are licensed by the California Department of Education and must meet certain requirements to provide special education services to students with disabilities.

Guidance on how to arrange for an independent study program while remaining enrolled in your school district

This article contains a template you can send to the school to initiate the discussion around reimbursement.

This can be shared with the IEP team to initiate the discussion around services.

About the author

Sean G. McCormick founded Executive Function Specialists, an online coaching business that guides middle, high school, and college students in overcoming procrastination, disorganization, and anxiety by teaching time management, prioritization, and communication skills so they feel motivated, prepared, and empowered. He trains educators, parents, and other professionals to support students with ADHD and executive function challenges through his courses in the Executive Function Coaching Academy.


Executive Functions, Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase, Executive Functions, Inc. will earn a commission.

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EFS started with one teacher deciding that kids with ADHD needed better access to quality executive function coaching services. Since then, we have grown to a team of specialists working both private students and public schools to enhance executive function skills for all students. 

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