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Becoming a parent is equal parts beautiful and nerve-wracking and every person’s journey into parenthood is unique. As parents, we are given guidance from doctors on how best to care for our children and support them as they are growing and learning; we are also informed when our child may not be meeting developmental milestones. While each of our journeys is different, one thing they have in common is that parents and caregivers plan, prepare and raise children to the best of their ability, given the tools and knowledge that they have. 

One thing that we can’t feasibly plan for are all of the “what ifs” – What if my child can’t see or hear? What if my child doesn’t learn to talk? What if my child has a disability? Emily Kingsley said it best in her famous essay Welcome to Holland: Having a child is like planning for a vacation to Italy. You spend months preparing and planning and when the time comes, there’s a shift in the flight plan. You get off the plane and suddenly you realize that you aren’t in Italy, you’ve arrived in Holland where you must stay. It’s not terrible, it’s just different – and not at all the trip that you planned and prepared for.

Entering the world of special education is much like the change in flight plan to Holland. You may be aware that your child is having difficulty in school, and you talk with the teacher about how to help. After several parent teacher meetings, you find yourself having discussions with your child’s teacher(s) about needing evaluations to identify what may be leading to the difficulty that your child is experiencing. When the evaluations are complete, you receive them prior to the meeting and you read through them and try to make sense of the information. The process is an emotional one because as a parent, you are not only learning new information but you may also be mourning hopes, dreams, aspirations and ultimately the future that you wish for your child. 

Before you have had time to process your thoughts and emotions, you find yourself in a meeting with a bunch of teachers, administrators and professionals. You are asked if you received a copy of your rights and procedural safeguards, and of course you say “yes” because you remember it was in the folder with the evaluations, but you didn’t really understand what it meant, and your only focus in this moment is that all of these people are here to review in detail your child’s struggles, skill deficits and areas of need. 

At the end of the meeting, this team makes the determination that your child qualifies for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). You agree because you want what is best for your child but, to be honest, you are still reeling from all of the information that was just laid at your feet in a room full of strangers. Your child has been qualified for an IEP, given support(s) that will help them in school and you were given this lengthy document called “procedural rights and safeguards”…

… But what does it all mean? 

Navigating the IEP process

Here are our top five recommendations for students and families receiving special education services.

  1. A student’s IEP team is composed of educators, specialists, the student and their family. We encourage students and families to view this team as a partnership and healthy partnerships require open, honest and respectful communication
  1. Ask your child’s school administrator or special services administrator to schedule a time to meet with you to review the procedural rights and safeguards. Bring paper, take notes, and ask questions. Make sure that you feel good about your understanding of the document as a result of this discussion. 

For families residing in Maine we recommend reviewing the “companion document” created by the Maine Department of Education. (  If you live elsewhere, check your state’s Education Department website for similar information.

  1. Ask your child’s school administrator or special services administrator if there are any supports available through the school such as an advocate that you can access if you have questions or would like support at the IEP meeting.
  1. Seek out resources within your community. No matter where you are at in your special education journey, there are a variety of resources available to support and help you be an active participant in the IEP process.  We recommend the following national resources that can help you connect with ones in your area.

  1. Prepare for IEP meetings by reviewing your child’s current IEP prior to the meeting. Make notes on it for questions you want to ask, any new information you want to add to parent concerns, information about your child’s strengths, skills they have and what skills you’d like them to work on. 

Navigating special education is a daunting task for families and access to support and guidance is very dependent on what systems are in place within the child’s school and local community, and how information about accessing those resources is provided. Given the nature of the work that we do here at KidsPeace, we have a shared understanding of the emotional toll that this process can take on families and, with that in mind, we aim to serve as a resource to families, our local communities and community partners. 

Though this probably isn’t be the journey that you planned for as parent, it’s now the path that you find yourself walking down with your child. Give yourself permission to feel every emotion, be kind to yourself, know that you aren’t expected to have all of the answers and feel empowered to ask every question you have. 

And always remember: you are your child’s biggest advocate and often times, their voice in this important process.  

Lindsae Kish

Lindsae Kish is a BCBA and an Assistant Special Education Director for KidsPeace. She is a graduate of the University of Maine and Kaplan University and holds a master’s degree in Psychology. Lindsae came to KidsPeace in 2012 and worked as a Behavior Analyst in both residential and education programs before moving into Special Education administration in 2021. In her current role, she oversees a KidsPeace Special Purpose Private School that serves students Preschool – 12th grade in Old Town, Maine.