10 Ways to Advocate at a Difficult IEP Meeting

Sometimes, an IEP meeting becomes contentious when parents & educators don't agree on how to best serve a child. These 10 tips can improve outcomes.

Welcome to DifferentDream.com, a website for parents of kids with special needs. Today’s post is the third in a series based on wisdom shared at last spring’s Accessibility Summit. One of the workshops at the Summit, Advocacy: Critical Conversations with Collaborative Outcomes, featured a blue ribbon panel of educators and parents: Ann Hines, principal at Rosa Lee Carter Elementary School; Barbara Tresness from the CHAT Collective; Linda Starnes, Parent Advocate; and Brendon Wolfe, principal of the S. John Davis Career Center. They offered the inside scoop on what parents can do before and during an IEP meeting or annual review that could be difficult–when it’s likely the educators and parents may not agree on what accommodations to make for a child. Here are their top ten suggestions for advocating during a difficult IEP meeting:

  1. Before the meeting, alert the school team about requests you’ll be making. This gives the educators time to research the request so they are prepared to ask and answer questions.
  2. Pray before the meeting. Pray with your child. Pray with your spouse. Pray for wisdom, for compassion, and for courage to advocate for the best possible accommodations allowed for your child under the law.
  3. Come prepared to give a parent report about your child’s progress outside of school. This gives the educators a more well-rounded picture of your child and reminds them that life for kids consists of much more than school.
  4. Schedule time during the IEP meeting for your child to speak. Once again, this helps educators, especially those who don’t work directly with your child, to see kids as more than paperwork, and your child’s presence shows how he or she interacts with those at the meeting who do work directly with your child. It also is a good way for your child to learn self-advocacy skills.
  5. Be willing to compromise when you can. Hopefully, that will encourage others to do the same. At the same time, don’t feel pressured to sign the IEP at the meeting. Instead, schedule another meeting in a week or so, and take the IEP home to think about and to discuss with your spouse.
  6. If a meeting becomes contentious, ask for a ten minute break. Sometimes, a short break will diffuse emotions so all sides can return to the table ready to look for solutions.
  7. If the ten minute break doesn’t do the trick, ask for the meeting to be stopped. Reschedule the meeting for a later date.
  8. Or agree to a short term IEP. One that field tests a strategy for a month or two. Then reconvene to formulate a longterm IEP based on the strategy’s success or failure.
  9. Pay attention to your body language. Avoid looking at your watch or the clock, crossing arms, leaning back, or using “you” statements. Instead lean forward, make eye contact, smile, and do all you can to show you’re engaged in the process and that your child’s good is the most important thing.
  10. File a grievance if necessary. If you can’t come to agreement, engage a professional advocate who can help you navigate the grievance process. The Wrightslaw website is a good place to learn more about professional special eduction advocates.

What Do You Do Before an IEP Meeting?

Have you been involved in a difficult IEP meeting in the past? How did you prepare beforehand and what did you do during the meeting so your child received the best possible services? The Different Dream Team would love to hear bout your experiences in the comment box. Thanks!

Part One: 7 Ways to Advocate Before an IEP Meeting
Part Two: 4 Special Needs Obstacles to Avoid at School
Part Three: 10 Ways to Advocate at a Difficult IEP Meeting
Part Four: 3 Strategies for Good Communication after an IEP Meeting

Do you like what you see at DifferentDream.com? You can receive more great content by subscribing to the quarterly Different Dream newsletter and signing up for the daily RSS feed delivered to your email inbox. You can sign up for the first in the pop up box and the second at the bottom of this page.

Sometimes, an IEP meeting becomes contentious when parents & educators don't agree on how to best serve a child. These 10 tips can improve outcomes.


  1. August 24, 2016    

    I really like your tip to be ready to take a break if the meeting gets contentious. I think it’s always in your child’s best interest to see you working with teachers and counselors in a respectful way because it teaches them good behaviors. If it’s too difficult to come to an understanding it may be a good idea to hire a third party IEP advocate that can help keep things calm and productive.

  2. August 27, 2016    

    That’s good advice, Jack. The third party can stay objective when it’s hard for those closer to the child and the situation to do so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.



Stairlifts Reviews 100 Best Disability Blogs

Special Needs Toys

Get Different Dream In Your Inbox

Plus a FREE gift!

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest news and updates from Different Dream and receive How to Use The Caregiver's Notebook VLOG Series eBook for FREE as our gift to you, our new favorite subscriber.


Success! Thank you for subscribing! Check your email for confirmation and your FREE gift!