The Important Role of Parents in Special Education

Parent and guardian participation in the special education decision-making process is vitally important. The most important thing parents of disabled kids can do is take an active role as a member of the Individual Education Program (IEP) team that determines a student's path.

The IEP team is charged with making educational decisions for students, and addresses issues such as eligibility, evaluation, program development, and placement of a child in special education or gifted programs. Parents and guardians know their kids better and should be very involved in the IEP process.


The Importance of the IEP Team

Mother and child waving to teacher
Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images

Despite their importance in educational decision-making, guardians sometimes feel overwhelmed by the IEP team process. They may believe team members perceive them as less knowledgeable about teaching or as obstacles to the decision-making process, especially if they disagree with the educators.

Don't let school personnel intimidate you in this process. Your role as an advocate for your child is paramount.


Guardians Provide Critical Input

Parents and guardians have a more complete understanding of a child's physical, social, developmental, and family history. They are the only adults in the educational process who have been and will be deeply involved throughout the child's school career. That continuity is very valuable.

Parents may not be educators themselves, but they bring their years of experience in other professions and aspects of life to the process, along with their experience with their own child.


Parents Often Know Their Children Better

While kids attend school about six hours a day, they may only have a few minutes of a teacher's undivided attention in a class. Many guardians and parents have the opportunity to sit side-by-side with their children, working through homework and other learning activities for extended periods.

They may be the only adults who closely observe students' work and get feedback from their children. Consequently, no one else has the perspective of a guardian or parent in a meeting.

Guardians should strive to attend meetings to ensure participation in decision-making and to provide input on all aspects of their children's education.

It's also critical for parents to be well-versed in district, state, and federal laws governing special education. Sadly, not all school administrators follow the rules, and parents need to be prepared to ask for what their kids need. ​


The Role of the Parent on the IEP Team

Guardians are vital to the IEP team process. They provide information on the child's strengths and weaknesses at home, background information on the child's history and development, and information on any family factors that may affect the child's learning.

Parents and guardians should be prepared to offer insight into whether current strategies and instruction are helping the child learn (even when not specifically asked), and provide suggestions for change and improvement.​

This back-and-forth communication—listening to your child's educators so you can practice at home, and having the educators hear your thoughts so they can follow through at school—will be less confusing to your child. And it will reinforce efforts on both sides.


Guardians Provide Insight on Transitions

Transition meetings are held to discuss movement from one school level to another, from one program to another, or to a postsecondary program, job, or assisted living program.

Only the parent or guardian accompanies the child throughout these important school and life transitions. Their input at each transition can ensure that appropriate services and supports are in place and increase the chances of the child's success in the new program.


Parents Are Their Child's Best Advocate

There is no one as interested in and motivated to see a child succeed and thrive than their own guardian, and this alone places them in a crucial role on the IEP team. How can you advocate for your child?

  • Correspond with teachers and other professionals in writing whenever possible, and hang on to these communications so that you can refer back to them.
  • Keep careful records of your child's education, including any testing and any IEP reports. Find a way to file these carefully so that you have them on hand readily if needed.
  • Learn as much as you can about your child's disability.
  • Observe your child's learning styles. Despite the specialized tests which attempt to discern how children learn best, parents are in the best position to watch this in action every single day.
2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Education. A Guide to the Individualized Education Program.

  2. Elbaum B, Blatz E, Rodriguez R. Parents’ experiences as predictors of state accountability measures of schools’ facilitation of parent involvement. RASE. 2016;37:115-27. doi:10.1177/0741932515581494

Additional Reading

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.