If there is an IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting in your future, you can go in more prepared than ever with a thorough read of the advice compiled in this IEP Survival Kit.  Hands & Voices has invited experts in deaf education and seasoned educational advocates—many of whom are parents of deaf or hard of hearing children—to share their wisdom for your benefit.  Read them all.  Recreate your personal favorites in cross-stitch to hang above the fireplace.  Whatever you do, take them to heart and use them to ensure that your child (or student) has the best plan possible. 

Art Cernosia, Esq., Attorney & former Hearing Officer; Education Consultant, Institute for Program Development

  1. Come to the meeting with a written list of both the successes that your child experiences and the challenges they still have.
  2. Be specific in your requests for changes to the IEP
  3. Ask what you can do as a parent to support the implementation of your child's IEP.

I could go on and on but it really is all about respectful relationships.

Shirley Swope, Educational Advocate & Parent Consultant, PEAK Parent Center, Colorado

IEP season is approaching! I think a good tip is to remember that nothing is written in stone, that the IEP is a guide, and if something doesn't work, it can be changed mid-stream. Also, it's a business meeting and should be treated as such. As much as parents want the school folks to appreciate our child as remarkable, beautiful, unique, etc, the school system sees the child as a number that requires money to educate. Parents actually can speak up and push for services that the worker-bee teacher can't even though the teacher may agree with the parent. So with that said, I think my top tips would be:

  1. It's a business meeting, do your homework. Ask for and review the DRAFT IEP before the meeting. If a DRAFT IEP is not available before the meeting, then explain that you will require a continuation meeting because you will need time to review the IEP and make your recommendations. Parents ARE part of the team.
  2. Put all requests in writing. If you are asking for something—testing, assistive technology, additional services—make that request in writing. You can verbally ask, follow up with an email, and a hard copy. You must document, document, document.
  3. Ask to see the DATA the team is using to make decisions about your child. RtI (Response to Intervention) requires schools to use data in their decision making process. As a parent, you have a right to see the data and have it explained to you.
  4. Keep the conversation going all year with the teacher and school. Be involved in the working of the school and district, the PTA, Advisory council, etc. If you are the parent who always shows up, your opinion is more valued because the school folks see that you value them.
  5. Record the meeting. It’s good documentation, and it helps with the listening, you can relax a bit more.
  6. Take someone with you. The person doesn't need to be a professional advocate, but a friend, pastor, babysitter, grandmother, aunt…another set of ears, and someone to work the recorder.
  7. Always leave with a copy of the IEP, be insistent, even if they want to "clean it up" first. Say, that would be great, however you really need a copy today even in its rough draft form.
  8. Be “from Missouri”! if the school says it can't be done, say show me where it says that in writing.
  9. Above all remember the "I" in the IEP, this is about your child, not the school's IEP.
  10. HAVE FUN!  Take treats to the IEP meeting, ask them to provide drinks, and you'll bring snacks. Relax and remember to breathe.

Tabitha Belhorn, Ohio H&V

Never go to an IEP meeting alone. If your spouse or the other parent cannot attend, be sure to bring along another family member, friend, or an advocate. Regardless of whether they know special education or hearing loss, another person in the room can change the atmosphere and offer a different perspective and even take notes for you to review later.

Frank Nesbit, EdD, DHH Program Consultant, Georgia Department of Education

The child's individual needs drive the development of special education and related services that are required for that child. The available services (the cart) do not determine how the child's needs (the horse) will be met.  Don't put the cart before the horse.  

Lisa Crawford, Texas H&V, Educational Advocate

I always, always, always recommend that parents use the PEI form to prepare for an IEP—so many parents think that just because something is discussed in the IEP meeting that means it is written into a goal or will be provided as a service. Many times these discussions are recorded in the notes as a "parent request” which has no legal teeth. Completing the PEI form prior to the IEP helps parents define specifically what services they are requesting. I also think it provides good incentive for the school to offer an alternative when a request is denied. Always have the team members sign or initial the form and ask that it be added to the official IEP record.

Here's the link for H&V's PEI - Click Here - (that's IEP backward…visit this URL to find out why):

Other ideas:

  •  Ask for an agenda prior to the meeting and provide input into the development of the agenda.
  •  Write a parent report and include your requests for services as they relate to any concerns you may have regarding your child's progress. For example, “Johnny’s reading level is two years below his enrolled grade level according to the ABC assessment he took on January 2, 2009.  We request that Johnny receive after-school tutoring for 45 minutes a week from a highly qualified language arts teacher.”

Sara Kennedy, Colorado Families for Hands & Voices

  • Parents can smooth the process by taking opportunities to get to know members of the IEP team well before the meeting, and sharing about their child’s current level of achievement and understanding the school’s various measures of progress. Otherwise, the IEP is bogged down in explanation of test scores and past progress. Know your child’s strengths/weaknesses and get input from your child about the plan as it unfolds each year.
  • On the school side, statements like "she's doing so well" shouldn't mean she's a nice student who doesn't cause any problems.  Doing "pretty well" just because he's on grade level is not acceptable either - all kids with hearing loss should be suspected of having some challenges with the subtler points of English or access to their educational/social worlds and probably both. IEP teams (including the parents) need to see real measures of progress so they can determine if the current plan brought a year’s growth in a year’s time. If the student is significantly behind, yesterday is the time to act. If there are no other learning issues, I want to see the plan for a year's progress in less than a year's time, not the same ole same ole goals and instructional methods.   
  • Friends don't let friends go alone to their IEP.  It can be a surprisingly emotional time. Friends can help you remember your questions and concerns during the meeting itself.
  • Every struggle shared at the meeting should be written down as a need (even if it is the school's need for more training or equipment or what-have-you) and that list of needs builds the goals and services portion. Teams sometimes aren’t familiar with writing social or advocacy goals or know about all the resources available through your department of education, state school, parent resource group,, or many other sources. Get hooked up with those treasure troves of information.

Lisa Kovacs, Indiana H&V, Educational Advocate

Take the time to plan ahead for your child's conference. Work on an agenda that would include your long term goals for your child, your child's strengths, what concerns you have for your child, areas of educational need you believe your child has, what related services you feel your child needs to support their education and the appropriate amount of time for each related service.

What accommodations and modifications are needed in order for your child to have appropriate access to their education? Some great strategies to use to determine your child's educational needs and prepare for the staffing would include a thorough review of recent evaluations, standardized testing, report cards, and work samples. Another wonderful resource when trying to recommend accommodations would be to use the Hands & Voices IEP checklist. This type of planning will help you lead the discussion or at the very least help you participate as an equal member of the team.

IEP Checklist link:

Susan Elliott, MA, NBCT, ToD, and 2009 Finalist for National Teacher of the Year

I encourage parents to meet with me before the IEP meeting to go over my findings, get their feedback/questions, and as needed, get more answers prior to the staff meeting. I hate seeing parents come to a meeting where they are expected to digest a ton of information in a short period of time. Often they don't even know some of the people at the table. I want to know what the parents' agenda looks like and have a more personalized discussion with them. The outcome is always much better for everyone involved, especially the student!

Christine Yoshinaga-Itano, Ph.D., University of Colorado, Boulder

“Staffing teams often struggle with what defines “appropriate” or “adequate” progress for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Deaf Education Reform in Colorado has adopted a one for one rule – one year’s growth in one year’s time. It is helpful to have the child’s growth over time from infancy because this developmental trajectory is established within the first few years after diagnosis of the hearing loss. Our Colorado longitudinal research indicates that it is possible to accelerate the developmental trajectory, but determination of the most effective interventions will require consistent progress monitoring of development over time. Parental involvement is the key and it is my hope that our future research will provide some guidance for families and staffing teams about concrete steps that can be taken to both prevent delay and to close gaps when they occur. The probability of preventing developmental delays increases when these delays are addressed as early as possible and that may require greater intensity of service and the highest level of skill at the youngest ages.” 

Vicki Hunting, Iowa H&V, Advocate

Do your know your child best!

In what areas does your child need specialized help because of his/her disability? Watch him/her at home; write down specific examples (these could be the basis/starting point for goals):

  • “...I notice that when we read together ‘Susie’ doesn’t know the meaning of some words that I think she should...”
  • “... ’Susie’ doesn’t have any friends outside of school...are their kids at school she hangs around with?”
  • “...I notice that when there is a large group that ‘Susie’ falls to the outside of the group. Why is that?  Is it because she doesn’t hear or understand what is going on, is it because she has no interest in the topic?

Know how the classroom is run; if grade appropriate, does the teacher write anything down? Does ‘Susie’ get a copy of it if she needs it? How does the teacher handle class discussions? If a child asks a question on the opposite side of the room from your child does the teacher repeat it before answering?

Data, data, data...ask for the data (test scores, rubric results, etc.) used to support their (the school’s) statements. Teacher observations are too subjective from which to base academic decisions.

Know what the academic expectations are for her grade level and where she fits.

Janet DesGeorges, Colorado H&V, Advocate

  • Be there when things are going ‘good’…earn the right to be ‘heard’--don't just show up at school when there is a problem.
  • Create a “Parent’s Agenda” for the IEP meeting to ensure that the issues you need to talk about are brought up.
  • Be solutions-oriented…bring the answers…speak up!

Ruth Mathers, M.A., Certified ToD, Former Hands & Voices Board of Directors

The principal of the school is most likely not a specialist in DHH issues. A parent can serve a valuable role by educating the principal about the parent point of view in a very respectful way.  Offer to take a principal to lunch. Demanding, whining, and being disrespectful of the teaching staff’s abilities will not help the parent’s cause. Innovative ideas that help a lot of children and put the school in a good light will always be listened to and given due consideration.

Cheri Dowling, Director of Advocacy, American Society for Deaf Children (& parent)

Don't ever be afraid to speak up and ask questions, so many times we (parents) attend meetings and words and acronyms are used and we really don't understand exactly what the term or the acronym means. Don't make the same mistakes I did, speak up, ask questions, and keep asking until you have a clear understanding.  Education jargon is overwhelming, sometimes even to educators.

Peter Wright, Esquire, Parent Attorney & Author,

  • If it isn’t in writing, it didn’t happen.
  • All IEP goals should be S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, use Action words, Realistic and Time-limited)

Martha Fidrych, Colorado Advocate

Before going into an IEP, I always ask for test/assessment results and copies of any DRAFT IEP's written to read ahead so I would know what the discussion areas might be.   I also consulted my son and daughter (both are deaf) to get their view of what worked and what needed to be changed in order for them to feel successful in the classroom.  Always start with the positives that were occurring for the student before considering the negatives...then the team knows you appreciate their efforts for your child and are a little more willing to work on areas that need change. 

Marc Marschark, PhD, Researcher and Author of Raising & Educating a Deaf Child

“Include interpreters and others at school who provide support services and know the kid. Parents often don't see the same child they do, and their input is invaluable to the IEP discussion.”

Orla McInerney, Colorado H&V

  • Keep a paper trail
  • Always reply in writing and keep meticulous copies
  • Check your child's file at least once a year, you might be surprised by what you find
  • Give praise when praise is due. All too frequently, we choose to only find fault
  • Be prepared. Arrive with a specific fact-supported plan.  Know WHY your child needs specific services and be able to articulate it
  • Bring copies of relevant documents
  • Bring an 8x10 picture of your child and place it next to you on the table where everyone can see it
  • Expect at least one year's progress (measureable and objective) in one year.  If less than one year of progress has been made, ask why and what is going to be done to remedy it
    • If your 6th grader is reading on a 2nd grade level, understand that they cannot be on grade level for any subject that requires proficiency in English, no matter what the teacher tells you
    • Dress professionally, like you mean business, because you do!
  • The least restrictive environment for a Deaf child who depends on sign for communication is not necessarily the mainstream classroom where no other children can sign

Candace Lindow Davies, Minnesota H&V

  • Diplomacy is key. The professionals you are negotiating with today will be the same professionals you'll be calling on for help tomorrow.
  • Transition planning can never start early enough.
  • Everything comes down to assessment determining need.  Without this, you can't start to talk about services provided.
  • Access, access, access. Ask yourself:  "Does my child have full and effective communication access across the curriculum?"
    • Listen to what the team offers for a solution to an issue before you dive in with what you want. They may come up with a better offer than what you were shooting for!
    • Take the emotion out of the equation. Don't let yourself become overly emotional because it can distract you from what you mean to say. Get the emotion out with a Parent Guide or trusted advocate before the meeting and then get ready for business.

Cheryl DeConde Johnson EdD, NASDSE Consultant, H&V Board of Directors

Focus on what YOUR child is doing and try to avoid any personal issues or general program policies. Expectations must be the same as for hearing peers. Make sure you get sufficient data on academic, language, communication, & social performance to really know how your child is doing across all areas. Ask for growth graphs of performance that compare your child to hearing children. Expect services that provide, at a minimum, one year of growth in one year (unless there are other mitigating issues). If an appropriate level (one year’s progress in one year’s time) of progress is not being made, ask why not, and what can be done to alter and improve the trajectory of development. Make sure that progress is monitored weekly/monthly, depending on what your child needs, so that adjustments to the services/program can be made quickly. Finally, look at communication access - it must be available 100% of the time - same as for hearing peers.

For more information on educational advocacy for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, we recommend these resources: and (see for Advocacy)

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