Making the Most of a Middle School IEP


Individualized Education Program

I’ve been attending IEP meetings now for 13 years. That’s hard for me to believe as I type this. An IEP (Individualized Education Program) is much more than just a written legal document or plan for your child. It’s like a map. It lays out special education instruction and services your child needs to make progress and succeed in school.

Your child’s IEP should be designed to meet his or her exact needs in school. Both the program and the plan are covered by special education law, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IEP seemed simpler (or maybe less intimidating) to me during the elementary school years.

Hello, Middle School!

Once we got to middle school, we had to push a little harder for follow-through on services. Middle school administration and teachers are (rightly so) interested in developing independence in our children. That’s a noble intention. However, for a child with diagnosed developmental delays, independence does not develop easily and certainly doesn’t come naturally. For example, for a child on the autism spectrum, independence comes through repetition of work with massive oversight.

So in my humble “mama opinion,” middle school is not a time to let go of the reigns, nor a time to take your foot off the pedal, mamas! Stay engaged in your kiddo’s work and in touch with your kiddo’s teachers.

Here are a few tips I learned while our oldest was in middle school. These helped to make the most of his IEP so it functioned best to serve him.

1. Your Involvement Should Increase, Not Decrease

Now that your child is in middle school, your involvement in his education should increase. Try to provide his case manager and teachers with a list of concerns that you feel are crucial. Have prepared questions ready for the IEP meeting. You can request an IEP draft before the meeting if you want to review it and suggest changes. Be a big part of goals and recommendations that are being made.

While your child is in middle school, check grades consistently, keep in touch with his teachers, and make sure teachers are following IEP guidelines. From my experience, there is usually a teacher who is busy and forgets an IEP accommodation. Teachers have to legally abide by the stipulations of your IEP. If they don’t, discuss it with your case manager. If the case manager doesn’t act on your behalf, contact your grade principal. I have friends who have gotten school districts involved. It’s totally worth it for your child.

Do your best to study your child academically. What are his strengths? What are his weaknesses? There will be academic struggles, but are they being lazy as well? We understand struggles at our house and work through them. But we don’t accept procrastination or lack of effort. We’re trying to teach that “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” That hard work may yield a “C,” but if it’s my child’s best, it’s good enough.

2. There Are Going to Be Adjustments

Your child is now in middle school, so there will likely need to be adjustments made to his or her IEP. Your child may need to take tests outside the classroom to eliminate distractions. He may need to have questions divided into small sections so that the length of the test doesn’t seem overwhelming, or he may need his test read to him out loud for processing reasons. He may be able to receive a study guide before tests.

You can ask for a lot of different things in an IEP to suit your child’s needs, and good schools readily provide these accommodations. Don’t be afraid to ask for what your child needs. The worst they can tell you is no. Also, talk with other parents who have been down this road and ask for input. What worked for their child during middle school? To what degree was the school willing to help?

You may want to bring a notebook and pen to the meeting for your own personal notes. Bring any additional paperwork that you think might be helpful such as information from a developmental psychologist (if you have one) or private therapies you use outside the school system. By signing privacy law papers, you can give your school permission to converse with them, which will most likely help everyone.

3. Social Goals Will Change

Welcome to the world of new and different (and more complex) social goals. Your child will need to expand his ability to socialize as much as possible in middle school. IEPs can help set attainable social goals for your child to slowly develop more sophisticated social habits like lengthening conversations, transitioning topics, and talking about shared interests.

Making social goals and accommodations a priority is key to helping your child navigate and stay afloat in middle school. Work with your case manager, teachers, and grade principal to make these goals attainable so your child will feel successful.

Ask if your child can be placed in lunch with a friend. Even a friendly face can ease anxiety in a crowded lunchroom. I have found that our case managers and grade principals always listen to suggestions about friends. They have gone above and beyond to put our son in classes with friends throughout the years. This provision decreases his anxiety, increases his social opportunities, and supports his academics. That is a big win for everyone!

4. Get Organized

Keeping up with IEPs over the years requires a little organization. Get a three-ring binder to keep track of materials. You can also keep report cards and progress reports there. Organizing it by grade makes it easy to refer back to any information you might need in the future.

Don’t Give Up

Whatever disabilities or learning differences your child has, don’t give up. Remember YOU are your child’s greatest advocate! You are the most crucial person on the IEP team. Develop relationships with teachers and keep an open line of communication throughout the year. Good schools can help you navigate a path for your child to reach his or her God-given potential in many areas. IEPs give you (and your school) a framework to help your child learn, do his best, and work toward goals. Whether he is going to be able to attend college or travel down a vocational track, do what you can to be in charge of your child’s educational future.