The Important Role of Parents in Special Education

Parent participation in the special education decision-making process is vitally important. The most important thing parents can do is ensure they are involved with and 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.


The Importance of the IEP Team

Mother and child waving to teacher
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Despite their importance in education decision making, parents 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.

Parents and other guardians should not let school personnel intimidate them in this process, because their role as student advocate is paramount.


Parents Provide Critical Input

Parents and guardians know their children better than anyone else and have the most complete understanding of a child's physical, social, developmental, and family history. 

Parents are the only adults in the educational process who have been and will continue to be deeply involved throughout the child's school career; and while they may not be educators themselves, they bring their years of experience in other professions and aspects of life to the process.


Parents KnowTheir Children Best

While kids attend school about six hours a day, they only have a few minutes of teachers' undivided attention in a class. Parents have the opportunity to sit side-by-side with them, working through homework and other learning activities for extended periods. Parents 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 parent in a meeting.

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

It's also critical for parents to be well-versed in the laws of their district and state so that they can be sure school administrators are following the rules. ​


The Role of the Parent on the IEP Team

Parents 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 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 communicating—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 not only be less confusing to your child but will reinforce efforts on both sides.


Parents Provide Vital Insight

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 accompanies the child throughout these important school and life transitions. The parents' 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 parents, and this alone places the parent 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. Hopefully, you will not need to refer back to any of these records, but if the need arises, you will have them in black and white.
  • 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 their 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.
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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Education. A Guide to the Individualized Education Program. Updated August 2019.

  2. Elbaum, B., Blatz, E., and R. Rodriguez. Parents’ Experiences as Predictors of State Accountability Measures of Schools’ Facilitation of Parent Involvement. Remedial and Special Education. 2016. 37:115-27. doi:10.1177/0741932515581494

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