In A Perfect World

IEP Survival Kit


For many parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing, the earliest sign of spring is that growing knot in the stomach foretelling the approach of the annual IEP staffing season.  I take comfort from many positive experiences with my son’s Individual Education Program planning teams, but like a lot of you, the process has sometimes been tense and painful. 

In preparation for this unique rite of spring, this issue features the collected wisdom of some ace educational advocates and experts who were invited to share their favorite tips for parents on not only surviving the IEP process, but actually making the most of it. 

It’s always encouraging to hear stories of how good things can be when everybody is on the same page about the child’s needs and there are no hurdles in implementing the plan. When things are good, they’re very, very good, but when the IEP meeting is bad, it’s horrid. To further complicate things, all kinds of factors can contribute to a difficult IEP meeting that have nothing to do with writing measurable goals or improving access to communication for our kids.  There are often elephants in the room that no one acknowledges like:

  • Patronizing or condescending professional attitudes towards parents.
  • Non-supportive administrators who limit the teachers’ effectiveness (this is sometimes the reason the teacher won’t look you in the eye and nurses a migraine for a week before and after the meeting).
  • Staff territorialism and power struggles within a school building or district.
  • Programmatic decisions that drive the school agenda.
  • Unwritten C.Y.A.-motivated administrative policies and practices that instantly stifle anything resembling creativity or innovation by the team.

Such things will probably always exist and they can definitely get in the way of productivity, so take them on. Bring your elephant gun, (I am obviously speaking metaphorically here).  The truth is that the parent is usually the only one who has “the elephant gun” and there are plenty of gifted, passionate educators who fervently hope that parent will use it.  Here are some talking points to load up with:

  • “I’m sure you don’t intend to make me (uncomfortable/feel dismissed/upset), but your comments are not helping me feel like an equal member of this team.”
  • “Is there anything limiting our discussion of what it will take to meet my child’s individual needs that you are all aware of that I’m not?”
  • “Can you tell me how your suggestion/idea/proposal/decision relates to my child’s unique, individual needs, and what evidence you have that it’ll work?”

Don’t Leave Home Without This Advice

Parents can often affect changes from their vantage point “outside” the educational system more effectively than teachers can on the “inside.” Most of us don’t draw a paycheck from the system and aren’t functionally-bound by school “culture”, so the same limitations don’t apply.  However, the most effective parent advocates are politically savvy; they learn how to navigate the system. Let’s face it, we are not living in a perfect world here, so it’s best to figure out how to function effectively in the one we’ve got. Frankly, it’s easier than colonizing a new planet. 

Bolstered by a good understanding of the procedural safeguards and their legal rights, the best parent advocates I know employ strategies not found in the canon of IDEA Regs, which is why we’ve dedicated this issue of The H&V Communicator to gathering these gems for you.  Hands & Voices has devoted a lot of attention to this important topic over the years. Many of our state chapters have parent-advocate networks to help each other out at the local level.  If you want to be that person in your state chapter, we want to hear from you!  Email us at  And if you want to dive deeper into this topic, there’s plenty of material at

Amidst All the Variables…The Constant Parent

Every year, IEP teams bring new people and perspectives to weigh in on what it’s going to take to educate our children and launch them into the highest stratosphere of their potential. With each new year, our child also presents new issues and challenges to be met.  From the first IFSP meeting until the last IEP, the constant presence of an empowered and effective parent is the key to the survival of your vision for this child’s future.  The sooner a parent understands that s/he is in charge of the care and feeding of the IEP team, the deeper the investment of that parent in the process.  The professionals are more respectful and responsive in return. The combined efforts of deeply invested parents partnered with responsive, qualified educators are far more likely to produce successful kids because…

  1. Everyone hold themselves equally accountable for results—parents and professionals alike.
  2. Everybody does their homework; they know what this child needs and apply evidence-based solutions, but keep an open mind and genuinely engage in a dialogue of discovery of what will work.
  3. They’ve read about and employ the newest recommended instructional practices in deaf education (see:; they also seek answers outside the boundaries of deaf ed.
  4. They are pro-active, equally-yoked members of the IEP team and jointly set the agenda for a staffing.  Plus, everybody does what they say they’ll do.
  5. Everyone puts their requests in writing and shares them with the full team well ahead of time…whether it’s a draft IEP or a brand new idea to consider.
  6. They all follow the 4 R’s of Advocacy: (

Perhaps as important as any of this is the ability to maintain a sense of humor.  Whether you’re wrapping up a four-hour IEP meeting, or just trying to find a snappy ending to your column, in a perfect world, you always leave’em laughing.  So here are some inspiring final thoughts from our friends at

10 Ways To Have More Fun At Your IEP Meeting

  1. Wear costumes. On the meeting invitation, say, "Festive Dress Required."
  2. As an equalizer, require all attendees to wear Groucho glasses.
  3. Require all attendees to bring a musical instrument.
  4. Provide refreshments: Jalapeno Cheetos, and red Kool-Aid.
  5. Invite Hillary Rodham Clinton. List her name on the cover sheet.
  6. Try this introductory exercise: If you were a color, what color would you be and why?
  7. Play background music-anything by Frank Zappa.
  8. Give everyone a set of five flash cards to be used as the mood strikes:

    * Who invited him?
    * I love your hair!
    * Where did you get it done?
    * I’m sure we can trust that this will get worked out.
    * Does the law have any bearing on this?
    * Excuse me for 10 minutes while I can call my lawyer.
  9. Have the TV in the room tuned to the Court Channel.
  10. Keep score. Give a really nice door prize to the IEP team member (parents excluded) who makes the most positive comments about your child. Award grand prize to the IEP team member who makes the most negative comments about your child - the winner gets to provide 36 hours of respite care, in their home, to your child.
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