The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is the document starting at age 3 that will guide the all aspects of a child's therapy and learning environment for the following year.
Our personal journey through the IEP process seems like something that happened long ago and far away. The memories have dampened to include only the most ridiculous comments that came from the other side of the table. (The interim teacher of the deaf read Julia's audiogram upside down before reassuring us that she could hear speech sounds just fine!) Subsequent revisions and updates to Julia's IEP have come much easier and without the war mentality required for that first meeting.
The advice I offer to any parent preparing for this meeting is to know and visit every option available to your child. Visit the programs even if you hate the idea of them. Visit the school you know won't be approved. At every turn there is information (ammunition if you will) to be gained.
Before our meeting I visited the DePaul Institute, a preschool program suggested by the other members of the IEP team, and two different speech classrooms. We battled to get decision makers at our meeting and then discussed each option and each element of the plan for over three hours. It was an epic undertaking.
We left feeling satisfied that we'd secured the best setting available for intense speech therapy needed to overcome the time lost before Julia got her hearing aids. Eighteen months later we had results to confirm that we'd been successful in advocating for our child.
It is most important to remember that this is no small undertaking. You must be on your game. You have to be prepared. You have to study. A great starting point for getting all the most out of an IEP is Kids Together, Inc, a non-profit resource for kids with disabilities. They have a terrific list to get you started with your research and planning. Except for their suggestion to "make the meeting festive", I agree wholeheartedly with their suggestions.
Our IEP meeting was far from festive.