Little girl with special needs playing with mom

Sending a child to school for the first time is bittersweet and overwhelming for any parent. Tiny backpacks! Bento lunchboxes! First Day pictures! And when your child has a suspected disability and needs an IEP assessment, starting school can have a whole new layer of intimidation. 

An IEP, or an Individualized Education Program, is a plan set in place by you, the child, and the school team so your child can access their educational curriculum with the necessary services and accommodations in place to help them succeed. An IEP can include things like extra time on tests, occupational therapy during the school day, or specialized devices, among many other accommodations. To learn more about special education in Massachusetts, click here

Even if your child received early intervention services, the transition to school and the IEP world involves new vocabulary, new providers, and a new frame of reference as the focus is now on your child’s role as a student. Here are some tried and true tips to help make the process of IEP assessment as smooth of a process as possible. 

Bring Your People

Do you have an aunt who was a special education teacher for 34 years? Or a mom friend who has an older child with a similar diagnosis? Do you feel the most confident with your partner or mom by your side? Bring them along! It can be very helpful to have people with you who are familiar with the process or who can provide support. They can write down information, ask questions from their perspective, or simply offer a comforting hand squeeze. 

Everything Helps!

Feel free to bring as much information that you think is relevant to your child that might be helpful for your IEP team to know. You can bring medical reports from birth, early intervention assessments, videos, or craft samples. I’ve even seen a parent bring a 15-minute PowerPoint about their child! On the flip side, don’t panic if you can’t remember the exact month your child started rolling over (after all, that could have been three whole years ago!). If you remember that they were definitely a late talker or you were surprised at how early they walked, that’s helpful info too. 

Your Kiddo Will Probably Get Stage Fright

You can be almost assured that when you bring your child to an assessment they’ll suddenly freeze up. Or the opposite will happen and they’ll start exploring the room when you know they’re normally more focused. The IEP team is very used to it! Your input is important too. Mention that they can usually draw that shape easily or that they typically fall more when kids are around. Your reporting helps the IEP team put together a more clear picture of your child. 

Take a Break

It’s completely okay (and common!) if you want to request a break during the assessment. Check in with your kiddo, give them a cuddle, and offer them a snack. Step out for a quick walk or bathroom break. Taking just a few minutes to yourself can help you feel more calm and refreshed to take on the next task. 

Time to Get Organized

It’s a necessary evil, but IEPs come with a LOT of paperwork—consent forms, pamphlets, provider reports, goals, and progress notes, among other things. Consider investing in an accordion folder or a binder to keep track. You can break up the tabs by service, by form type, or by year depending on what works best for you. This will also break up the IEP into more digestible chunks for when you take it home to review everything. Feel like you’re drowning? Check out this article about time management tips for busy moms.

Your Kiddo Is Doing Great

Assessments have the reputation of being a total drag. It feels like providers are hovering around your child, taking note of all of their flaws and ways in which they “fail.” But I’ll let you in on a secret. What the assessors really think about is how cute your kiddo is: how much they look like mom, how hilarious they were with the blocks, how curious they were with that new toy. And they think about what an involved parent you are and how well you’ve advocated to get your child to where they need to be. 

Welcome to school. You’ve got a great kid. And you’re doing great. 

Shannon Brady
Shannon moved with her husband to Cape Cod during the pandemic to be closer to family. She is originally from Providence and married her high school sweetheart Tom. She went to college at Boston University and earned her degree in human physiology. She worked as a preschool teacher before applying to graduate schools to pursue her degree in physical therapy. She attended USC to get her doctorate in physical therapy and spent 10 years in Los Angeles with her husband. During the pandemic, she and her husband bought a home in Dennisport to be closer to family. After over two years of infertility, they welcomed their daughter Lily. They then welcomed their second daughter Hailey a short sixteen months later. Shannon is a physical therapist and a board-certified Pediatric Clinical Specialist, although she currently stays home with her girls, who are now one and two years old. She is passionate about using her knowledge in physical therapy to empower parents and give them confidence around their baby’s development. She is an avid runner and former Girls On The Run coach with a strong desire to advocate for young women and girls in sport. She also enjoys reading, cooking, snuggling with her dog Jack and watching reality TV. Shannon’s favorite part of living on Cape Cod is being able to watch fireworks from Chatham to Hyannis from the beach on the 4th of July.


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