As parents enter the world of special education, the PPT meeting, to plan for your child’s Individual Educational Plan (IEP) can be daunting. I have had the opportunity to be on “both sides of the table”, representing the school district as their speech-language pathologist, and representing the parent as their private therapist. In both cases, I want the process to be productive for the parent. Here are some tips to lead to that end:

• Be positive. Don’t approach the school as the enemy. So many times I’ve seen parents anticipate a negative response from the school team when in fact the professionals are there to hear the facts and formulate the best educational plan for your child. School personnel can’t and won’t promise a program until it is agreed upon at a meeting with you. It has been my experience that school personnel want the best for your child, just as you do. Go in with a positive attitude and you will likely get a better result.

Be your child’s advocate. You know your child better than anyone. Don’t be intimidated by a team of professionals around the table. You are part of the team and your input is vital. If you come to a meeting prepared and with some goals in mind, be strong in your commitment to seeing them implemented.

Be prepared. Write down your observations to share with the team. This is invaluable. It’s one thing to say your child’s attitude has changed about school. It is more helpful to be specific such as, “He cries every morning and doesn’t want to go to school.” Or “He’s being teased by his peers for being slow to answer.” Or “She’s frustrated because she misses directions when she leaves the room for special help.” As a professional on a team, I find specific information from home a crucial piece of the puzzle. Often children can keep it together at school but will let out their feelings at home. Have a list of possible solutions to present to the team such as “increase his reading instruction” or “decrease his pull-out therapy and have it delivered in the classroom.”

• Be educated on your options. As a parent new to the world of special education, you can be overwhelmed by all the programs available—speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy or behavior plans—and all the variations within each discipline such as pull out and push in programs. Make an appointment with the director of your program or principal and take the time to understand all the services available to your child. Often parents address the most obvious area of need whether it is speech, motor or cognitive difficulties, while behavior issues arise related to their child’s frustration and delay.

• Be open. Now that I am working in private practice, I have had a number of parents that don’t want me to communicate with the school, partly so their child won’t be labeled and also parents think if they don’t say anything, no one will notice. Honestly, good teachers pick up on problems right away. They benefit from all the information to best serve your child. You aren’t helping your child by holding back information. If your child is having attention difficulties and medication is not an option for you, then be honest and tell the team that. Now they will go forward and look for other strategies to help you child.

• Be flexible. A good team will come up with different recommendations. Be open to trying the strategies that they recommend. If something works for your child, such as preferential seating, or having directions written down as a reminder, then that is great. Maybe it will take trying a few strategies before the best results are seen.

• Be patient. It can take some time. Children are dynamic human beings, always changing and surprising us. Each year is a new challenge academically as they progress through the grades. It might take some time to accurately assess your child and get the best plan in place. You can be patient as long as you see professionals implementing the plan for your child.

• Be persistent. Follow up. Even with the best of intentions, some pieces of the educational plan might fall through the cracks. Since you are your child’s strongest advocate, you need to follow up and make sure that the recommendations are being implemented. If an occupational therapy consultation was recommended and two months have passed, check and see that it occurs in a timely fashion.

Be connected. Seek out a local group of parents of children with special needs. Many districts have a PTA just to serve you, offering educational programs and the opportunity to learn from other parents who might just be a step ahead of you, in processing your child’s diagnosis or understanding the programs available.

• Be a communicator. Set up a method with the team to insure communication between the professionals working with your child, parents and any outside therapists. Weekly e-mail, phone calls or written communication—whatever is most efficient and helpful to disseminate information–should be part of the plan. Knowing the classroom themes for the week or science or social studies curriculum, helps a parent or therapist carry over concepts, vocabulary and reinforce goals. Parents reporting on the weekend such as “He went to a birthday party and was able to transition without tears” or “She had a fight with her friend and was able to tell me what happened” provide valuable feedback to therapists and teachers working on these skills.