Spina Bifida Family Support

"Families Helping Families"



Individualized Education Program Communication Skills for Parents

The Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (known as P.L. 94-142) guarantees that all children with disabilities receive a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. The law states that your child has a right to receive an assessment which is fair and non-discriminatory. The law further guarantees that you have a right to be involved in the decisions which are made about your childís education.

Parents often need guidelines for communicating effectively with professionals to insure the best programs for their children. Parents and school personnel have been learning how to work together for a number of years now. The process has not always been an easy one. But one things seems to be clear for everyone Ė it is through true, collaborative relationships between parents and professionals, based on mutual respect and concern, that the most can be accomplished for children. The following are some "cue questions" and suggestions for parents to aid them in becoming more effective advocates for their child.

Before attending any review, IEP meeting or consultation, parents can telephone significant team members to help prepare them for the meeting. Questions to ask might include:

    1. How much time are we going to have to develop my childís program?
    2. Who is going to be at the meetings and what will be their role?
    3. How is the meeting going to be run? Who will chair it? What will be covered at the meeting?
    4. I would like __________ to be at the meeting because he/she has been so involved with my child. Will you call him/her or shall I?
    5. What are you perceptions of my childís progress and what goals are you thinking about for next year?

At an annual review, parents usually need to know about the childís current school performance, the schoolís goals and objectives for the future, the extent of the childís participation in a regular classroom, and the childís specific placement in the system. Questions to ask might include:

Regarding Current School Performance:

    1. When looking back on last yearís goals and objectives, how much progress has my child made? Could you give us specifics please?
    2. What goals and objectives does he/she still need to work on from last year?
    3. What can we do to help my child make more progress to his/her weak areas? Could you give us specifics please?

Regarding Goals and Objectives

    1. Should we include in the objectives that my child be able to generalize these skills to the classroom and other school and home settings?
    2. How often do the people who are implementers of the goals meet to discuss progress and program planning?
    3. How do the goals established for my child relate to the reasons he/she was referred to special education?
    4. When shall we meet again to review the goals and objectives?

Regarding Participation in Regular Education

    1. What opportunities will my child have to interact with normally developing peers? Language models? Social/behavioral models? Will that be at unstructured or structured times?
    2. How are my childís interactions in the mainstream going to be monitored and progress documented?
    3. Will my child be able to take advantage of regular education extra curricular activities, such as band and after school sports? What, specifically?
    4. Given that my child is in a small special class, will he/she have opportunities to experience a larger group? Do you feel that would be important for my child now?
    5. When do you think that my child will be ready to be mainstreamed?
    6. What are the exit criteria from special education?


    1. I would like to observe several of the classes that might be possibilities for my child next year. How do I arrange these visits?
    2. I would like my childís new program to be closer to home. How might this be arranged?
    3. My child has changed programs many times. I would like my child to stay in the same program for continuity. How do we accomplish this?
    4. How many years do most children stay in primary, intermediate, junior high and high school special classes?

General Suggestions

    1. I would like your suggestions as to what I can do at home to help my child. If we do not have time now to discuss this, can we talk at another time soon?
    2. Is there anything else I can do to help you help my child?

Asking for Clarification

Defining Terms

"Things are going quite quickly here, and Iím still behind one paragraph. Could you slow down and explain what you mean by expressive and receptive language?"

"I know my child pretty well, but Iím not familiar with the terms youíre using. Could you explain some of them so that I can relate them to my own experience with Jimmy?"

"Wait a sec, could you please explain what articulation means."

Understanding Content

"Iím a little confused about what you said. Could you repeat it?"

"Iím trying to understand what was just said."

"Thereís a lot of new information here. Could you go through it again?"

"Wait a minute. Can you go slower? I want to make sure I understand what you said."

Understanding Procedures

"Letís go through this again. To review Jimmyís file, I need to call the special education office and talk to Joe Jones and heíll set up a time to review the file. If I want, I can have a staff person available to answer any questions I may have? Is that right?"

Getting More Descriptive Information

"Mr. Smith, you were saying that Sally hasnít been working very hard in school this week. Could you give me some examples?"

"Which subjects isnít she working well in? What does she do when sheís supposed to be working? What are the other students doing at this time? How long can she work on an activity?" What activity does she work on the longest?"

"Mr. Jones, how are you going to teach Billy _________ (a self help skill)? I thought I might be able to work with him at home also. What is the first skill you want him to master? How can I help?"

"I would like to help Janie with her reading flash cards at home. Specifically, what should I do?"

Determining Implications

"I want to know if Iím hearing you right. Do you mean that if we go ahead and start this new approach to speech, we could evaluate its effectiveness in one month to see if itís working?"

"Now, letís stop for a minute. Are you saying that if we are able to help Sally to comply with our directions using a reward system, then she is not having difficulty understanding the language weíre using?"

"I have a really long-term question to ask. Will Jimmy ever really catch up?"

"Youíve shared the results of the testing and I generally understand what youíve said. What I want to know now is how these findings are going to effect her ability to learn at school?"

"Thanks for sharing the results of the testing. What Iím interested in knowing is what they mean in terms of her ability in the future? Will she always need special education?"

"What do the test findings tell you of the kind of specific teaching she will need in reading?"

Understanding Differences of Opinion

"Iím confused. Mr. Jones, youíre saying you think Joe should be mainstreamed and Mr. Smith, you think we should wait. I have not decided yet how I feel. Could you explain the reasons for your opinion?"

"Itís really incredible, we each spend time with Suzy yet we have such different opinions on what sheís capable of doing. Maybe we should get more specific and talk about each academic and developmental area."

Parents are encouraged to use these examples as guides to their own personal style not as exact "scripts". Parents need to communicate clearly and concisely. It is very important in any school meeting to speak openly and directly so that everyone will understand and respect your position.


This information sheet was produced by the Hydrocephalus Association.

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