It can be overwhelming to walk into your first special education meeting at your child’s school. You may be ushered into a room in which several other people are already seated, which can feel uncomfortable. But please know that you are a welcome – and important – member of the committee charged with planning your child’s special education plan. Here’s what you can expect at your child’s first ARD or IEP meeting so that you feel confident and prepared.
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What is an ARD committee?
In Texas, the committee charged with making educational decisions about a special education student is called an ARD committee. ARD stands for Admission, Review, and Dismissal. By law, the child’s parent is part of this committee. Other states have different names for this committee that works to develop the child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Who will attend the ARD meeting?
The first thing you may be asking yourself is, “Why are there so many people here?”
The law requires that certain people must be part of this committee. These include one general education teacher, one special education teacher, a representative from the school district (generally one of the building administrators), someone who is trained to interpret evaluation data (the diagnostician), and the child’s parent.
Other education personnel may be included in this committee depending on the child’s specific disability and needs. You might find a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a special education counselor (LSSP), or others, in attendance at the meeting. Try not to let the sheer number of people be intimidating. These folks are there for the sole purpose of helping the school develop the most appropriate plan for your child.
What happens at an ARD meeting?
In Texas, ARD meetings have a set agenda that should be followed.
Everyone in the room will introduce themselves to you and everyone will sign the attendance sheet which becomes part of the ARD minutes. Please introduce yourself as well and tell us your name so that we know how to address you.
Next, the diagnostician will go over your child’s evaluation data and discuss how your child qualifies for special education services. Once this information is presented, you’ll generally asked if you have any issues you’d like for the ARD committee to address during the course of the meeting.
Feel free to speak up. You may find that your concerns will be addressed later in the meeting, or they be discussed before the meeting proceeds any further.
You’ll then hear reports from the different people in the room. This will include more formal reports from various specialists, as well as more general reports from your child’s teachers. The more formal reports will include scores and information from diagnostic assessments of your child’s present levels of achievement, and specifics about their learning disability.
For example, a speech therapist will report on how speech therapy is progressing. They’ll let you know if your child has mastered previously set goals, and what goals still need more work. They will make recommendations on what your child should focus on during the upcoming year.
Sometimes, one of the professionals may report that all goals have been met and then recommend that your child be dismissed from receiving this particular service. This is GREAT news! It means that your child has progressed to the point that the specialist believes they do not require the service any longer. I’ve seen parents weep with joy at this news because it symbolized how far their child has come.
I’ve cried right along with parents at this news a few times myself. It’s a great day when a child “graduates” and no longer needs a supplemental service.
Sometimes, however, these reports are harder to hear. If your child is lagging in certain developmental or academic areas, this is when this information will be shared. Occasionally, tears are shed during this part of the ARD as well. I know – I’ve cried right along with parents when they’ve received distressing news.
The simple fact is that it’s hard for any of us to be completely objective about our kids. Many of the people who are attending this ARD meeting with you are also parents, so they understand how concerned you are about your child – and they’re most likely sitting there trying to put themselves in your shoes and realizing how difficult it can be. But in order to develop the best plan possible for your child, the people in the room need to make you aware of your child’s strengths, weaknesses, and any other issues at play in your child’s academic development.
The thing to remember is that everyone in the room wants the same thing that you do – to help your child do their best and achieve at the highest levels they can.
Your child’s teachers will then give a less formal report to update you on your child’s grades and how things are going in class. They will also let you know if there are any behavioral concerns that need to be discussed.
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Now for an honest, behind-the-scenes look at what is often the hardest part of an ARD meeting
Okay, here’s the part that the school usually dreads most – behavior, and developing the plan.
Everyone in the room wants a positive meeting and a positive outcome, but the truth is that nothing is accomplished by sugar-coating problems. It’s possible that you may have heard some things that your child needs to work on and that need improvement – either academic or behavioral. Nothing that you’re told is a personal attack on you or your child. But nothing was ever solved by ignoring or downplaying problems either.
Additionally, your child’s teacher (or the administrator present) may need to bring up some behavioral issues. Relax – every child under the sun has at some time had some behavioral issues that needed to be discussed. But I will tell you something from personal experience – this is often a very difficult part of the ARD for both parents and school personnel.
I have attended hundreds of ARD meetings over the years, and this is generally the part that teachers (and administrators) dread most. No one likes to be the bearer of bad news. And no one in the room wants to share upsetting news with a parent. But sometimes there are things going on in the classroom that may be hindering a child’s academic achievement.
Now, I’ve got three kids of my own – and while I love them dearly, none of them are perfect. If you should hear information that does not show your child in their best light, please do not take it personally. Everyone in the room knows that kids will be kids – and that part of being a kid means pushing some boundaries upon occasion. It’s no reflection on your parenting skills, your home life, or anything else. NO ONE IS JUDGING you as a parent.
IF there are behavioral concerns presented, try not to get upset. I can guarantee you that the school doesn’t enjoy this part of the ARD meeting either. It’s hard to discuss behavioral problems because emotions are involved. Keeping the focus on helping the child goes a long way towards coming up with a solution.
At this point, the committee will develop a specific plan for support and services to help your child. You will be asked for input, and your input is important. Details will be discussed, you’ll be able to ask questions, and once everyone is in agreement, paperwork will be signed and the meeting will be adjourned.
You should receive a copy of the minutes from the meeting along with a copy of your child’s updated IEP (Individual Education Plan). This is usually mailed to you a few days after the meeting is over and the reports have been typed up and printed. You’ll want to keep a copy where you can refer to it or bring it to subsequent meetings if necessary. Lots of parents start a folder or binder to help keep this paperwork organized.
But do remember that your involvement in your child’s education does not end when this meeting is over. You have the right to call an ARD meeting at any point should you feel like the IEP needs to be revisited. Of course, you can always request a general teacher conference to discuss issues, but this need not be a full ARD meeting unless the IEP needs discussing.
You are your child’s most important advocate. Working cooperatively with the school will help your child have a good school year and make the progress that everyone is hoping for.
Commonly used special education terms:
Sometimes it seems that there is a whole new language associated with special education. Here are some commonly used terms and abbreviations and what they mean.
This guide to special education law may help you as you begin, or continue, to navigate the special education system and advocate for your child. Knowledge of the law will help you feel more comfortable working with the school system to help ensure the best education possible for your child.
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These are a few selections that will help you navigate the system and advocate for your child.