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Building the bridge . Connecting with Families, Educators and Specialists. By: Heather Fleming and Erin Whitmer. Agenda. Speaker Introduction Educators as Liaisons Family-Focused IEP or IFSP Meetings How to Empower Parents Collaborating Effectively with Specialists and Experts.

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building the bridge

Building the bridge

Connecting with Families, Educators and Specialists

By: Heather Fleming and Erin Whitmer

  • Speaker Introduction
  • Educators as Liaisons
  • Family-Focused IEP or IFSP Meetings
  • How to Empower Parents
  • Collaborating Effectively with Specialists and Experts
heather fleming
Heather Fleming
  • Educator of Pre-school Special Education
  • Teaching for 5 years
  • Masters in Early Childhood Special Education
  • Autism Certificate
erin whitmer
Erin Whitmer
  • Mom of Special Education pre-school student, Noah
  • Author of Fighting Back with Fat, A Guide to Battling Epilepsy Through the Ketogenic Diet and Modified Atkins Diet
educators as liaisons
Educators as Liaisons
  • Parents are not able to be at school all day long to communicate with specialists (OT, PT, SLP, etc.), therefore it’s the role of the educator to act as a liaison between parents and specialists.
  • It is important for educators to be aware of service providers and opportunities outside of the school in order to provide parents with a more well-rounded approach to their child’s care.
      • The Parent Resource Center (or any county center geared for Special Education Families), Private Therapy Providers, Support Groups, Workshops and parenting seminars, Medicaid Waivers, etc
how to be an effective liaison
How to be an Effective Liaison
  • “I have found that a communication notebook that goes to and from school everyday is really helpful” Kelley, Mom of Teenage Mom with Autism
  • Daily communication is essential.
    • Focus on positive.
    • Establish home visits or consistent parent conferences.
    • Encourage open conversation about in-classroom and out-of-classroom challenges.
    • Find out the best communication method for each family.
  • Bridging the gap between private and school-based therapists.
    • Communicate or visit private therapies.
    • Encourage parents to share what private therapies are doing.
how to be an effective liaison1
How to be an Effective Liaison
  • How to build consistency between home and school.
    • Set realistic expectations for home.
    • Transfer the structure of school into home.
    • Use the same strategies at home and in school.
      • Share videos of in-school successes with parents to encourage home-based success.
      • Share the tools and supplies that are successful for the child in school with parents (i.e. adaptive scissors, iPad apps, environmental adaptations).
      • Establish why are we teaching this specific skill.
set up a family focused iep or ifsp meeting
Set up a Family-Focused IEP or IFSP Meeting
  • Educate the parent well in advance of the IEP or IFSP meeting.
    • What is the meeting for?
    • Who will be present at the meeting and what will their role will be at the meeting?
    • What can the parent expect?
  • Send home draft of IEP/IFSP prior to the meeting
    • Give the parents an opportunity to voice concerns or request adaptations in advance of the IEP / IFSP meeting.
run a family focused iep or ifsp meeting
Run a Family-Focused IEP or IFSP Meeting
  • Environmental Set-Up of the meeting
    • Determine where the parent will be the most comfortable sitting.
    • Consider arranging for technologies that will enable parents and other meeting attendees to see the electronic paperwork as it’s filled out.
    • Eliminate side conversations!
  • Structure the conversation.
    • Be sensitive to parents’ complex emotions when presenting evaluations or eligibility results.
    • Try to bookend each point or goal with a positive statement or observation.
    • Actively engage the parent to be an integral part of the conversation.
audience activity you are kenny s mom how does this make you feel
Audience Activity:You are Kenny’s mom. How does this make you feel?

Summary of Speech and Language Skills:

  • Kenny presents with a significant speech and language impairment which may limit his ability to communicate his wants and needs in any environment. Kenny's limited use and understanding of language may prevent him from fully participating in school activities, such as singing, listening to stories, or commenting on activities and interacting with peers.
audience activity continued you are kenny s mom how does this make you feel
Audience Activity continued:You are Kenny’s mom. How does this make you feel?

Summary of Speech and Language Skills:

  • Kenny is a preschool boy who eagerly participates in speech activities and appears to enjoy interacting with teachers and peers. Kenny is a mostly nonverbal child, who has been learning to communicate with signs and words. Kenny currently knows and uses about 20 words and signs in the classroom. Kenny uses words for "momma," "car," "bus," "book," "dog," and "ball." Kenny also uses many signs in the classroom environment, such as "more," "eat," "drink," "please," "help," and "my turn."
strengthening the parent teacher relationship
Strengthening the Parent-Teacher Relationship
  • Begin by building a relationship of trust!
    • Create continuous contact.
    • Engage in open, honest conversations.
    • Use parent friendly vocabulary (NO ACROYNMS!)
  • Know your family
    • Be aware of additional family stressors (divorce, income, job loss).
    • Be aware of parental involvement and priorities.
  • Follow a parents’ cues when discussing their child.
    • Assure parents that they are the experts on their children!
    • Be aware of parent’s emotional struggles.
  • Introduce parents into the classroom environment.
    • Create opportunities for parent volunteering.
    • Encourage parents to observe therapy sessions.
empowering parent tips
Empowering Parent Tips
  • Go to a meeting with a trusted person.
  • Set goals for what you hope to discuss in the meeting.
  • Request a copy of relevant materials before the meeting.
  • Bring letter from specialist, doctors, and outside therapist that outline your child’s needs.
  • Put requests and concerns in writing.
  • Share other developments, successes and/or weaknesses from other therapies.
  • Find a way to personalize your child (ie. Bring in a picture).
empowering parent tips continued
Empowering Parent Tips continued
  • Ask questions and don’t back down! Anything your disagree with, on the IEP, must be included on the IEP.
    • Feel comfortable with what is being said before you sign it. Do not sign the IEP if your concerns are not documented.
    • Parents have the right to request an independent evaluation, at the public school’s expense, if you do not agree with their professional assessments
  • You have VETO power.
    • You know your children best, and if you’re not on board with a strategy, it won’t work.
  • Take notes!
  • Request additional copies of school reports.
helpful special education websites
Helpful Special Education Websites
  • The Arc of Virginia:
  • Brian Injury Association of VA:
  • Autism
    • Society of Central VA
    • Society of Northern VA
    • VCU ACE
  • Down Syndrome Society of:
    • Northern VA:
    • Richmond:
    • Hampton Roads:

*Blogs of Special Needs Parents and Families*


Aubin, C. (2011, June 23) Top 15 Things You Must Know When Dealing with Goochland County Public Schools (GCPS) Special Education & Individualized Education Programs (IEP’s) Retrieved from: Special Needs and Depression: Advice for families and caregivers. Retrieved from

Exceptional Education and Support Services, Henrico County Public School. Facilitating an Effective IEP Meeting. PDF Retrieved from

GreatSchoolsStaff. Tips for a Successful IEP Meeting. Retrieved from :

Hanover County Special Education Department. Parent's Guide to an IEP Meeting PowerPoint presentation.

references continued
References continued

Hanover County Special Education Department. Tips for a Warm and Effective IEP Meeting PowerPoint presentation.

Kirk, Gallagher, Coleman, and Anastasiow (2009). Educating exceptional children. 12th ed. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Norton, A. (2007, April 18). Some moms of autistic kids prone to depression. Retrieved from: (2008, January 11). It’s not easy being green-and other wise words from famous frogs. Retrieved from

Virginia Department of Education: Division of Special Education and Student Services (2012, October). Your Family’s Special Edcuation Rights: Virginia Procedural Safeguards Notice. PDF Retreived from:

Personal interviews with Special Needs Parents: Kelley Breeden and Helen Bruso.