Blog #8~ Three Scary Letters: IEP
Who would think that the 3 letters IEP could evoke anxiety and trepidation in the hearts of many parents of children with special needs? IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan. I used to be one of those scared and frail kittens shaking as I walked into the doorway. My son, Nick has Down syndrome and autism. I’ve been through my share of IEP meetings and learned a great deal on how to handle them. I heard my share of war stories:
“Watch out they will try and get away with cutting your service hours!”
“Why would they do that?”
“Oh the budget constraints and pressure from the school district, that’s why. They are going to say the teacher can address the issues and you don’t need the additional speech therapy hours.”
So enter the neophyte parents into the doorway to face the army of personnel from the school. The IEP team usually consists of the classroom teacher, case manager, occupational therapist, speech therapist, adapted PE teacher, school counselor, social worker, school nurse and a student services representative. Oh and yes, the parents too. 🙂 I can recall many in the early days crammed in tightly around a table and feeling very clueless in the early days. The IEP meeting is intended to be a team effort, but sometimes we couldn’t help but feel like it was them against us.
What an IEP exactly? Here is some information from Wikipedia:
An IEP is designed to meet the unique educational needs of one child, who may have a disability, as defined by federal regulations. The IEP is intended to help children reach educational goals more easily than they otherwise would. In all cases the IEP must be tailored to the individual student’s needs as identified by the IEP evaluation process, and must especially help teachers and related service providers (such as paraprofessional educators) understand the student’s disability and how the disability affects the learning process.
The IDEA 2002 requires that an IEP must be written according to the needs of each student who meets eligibility guidelines under the IDEA and state regulations, and it must include the following:
- The child’s present levels of academic and functional performance
- Measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals
- How the child’s progress toward meeting the annual goals are to be measured and reported to the parents
- Special education services, related services, and supplementary aids to be provided to the child
- Schedule of services to be provided, including when the services are to begin, the frequency, duration and location for the provision of services
- Program modifications or supports provided to school personnel on behalf of the child
- Least Restrictive Environment data which includes calculations of the amount of time student will spend in regular education settings verses time spent in special education settings each day
- Explanation of any time the child will not participate along with nondisabled children
- Accommodations to be provided during state and district assessments that are necessary to the measuring child’s academic and functional performance
- The student should attend when appropriate. If the student is over 14 they should be invited to be part of the IEP team.
- Additionally, when the student is 16 years old, a statement of post-secondary goals and a plan for providing what the student needs to make a successful transition is required. This transition plan can be created at an earlier age if desired, but must be in place by the age of 16.
IEPs also include other pertinent information found necessary by the team, such as a health plan or a behavior plan for some students.
The IEP can be daunting on paper, or shall I say more like a ream of paper averaging for Nick around 50 pages total. The biggest tip I can share is to request all of the reports and intended goals prior to the meeting for your review. In addition, I suggest meeting with the case manager at least a month before the meeting to discuss proposed goals that will be in the education plan. That way there are no surprises at the IEP meeting. If the parent and teacher have a good communication system back and forth there shouldn’t be any. (For additional support, go to the links and resource pages on this website and look under Wrightslaw, Bridges for Kids-IEP goals and Barb Bateman’s book, Better IEP’s.)
Over the years we have utilized outside advocacy when we felt like the needs of our son might be compromised. Rewind to 1998 in Houston, when Nick was attending a public pre-school program twice a week and a private special needs pre-school three days a week. (This was before we could get him in the private school full time). We brought an entourage of very strong women from the private school to advocate for Nick. Our advocates dissected that IEP and insured that all supports were in place down to the last detail. That being a nubby rubber cushion for Nick to sit on to keep his core activated and him alerted. I was floored at the way they spoke up for our son. I would have never known to boldly ask for these things.
Nick at The Arbor School in Houston, Texas……
The presence of an outside advocate walking in with you at an IEP meeting can certainly make the team members sit up and be on point. Memorable meeting number two was in 2001 when lived in the east bay area of Northern California. Nick’s language was minimal and he was getting frustrated not being able to communicate verbally. On this particular occasion we were being met with resistance with regards to the school providing a proper picture communication system and training of staff and parents. Enter the Executive Director of The Down syndrome Connection by our side. (DSC is the local Down syndrome support group) The school’s Physical Therapist asked if she could report first as she had another meeting to attend. The Social Worker raised her hand and asked if she could go second and then excuse herself.
Without blinking an eye, the DSC Director calmly said, “Wait a minute, we are all here to discuss Nick’s future, right? We only have this meeting once a year. The least you can do is stay and be a contributing member to this team.”
No one dared to leave that meeting. Oh, and yes the communication specialist was immediately put in place to help with the picture communication system for Nick.
Nick in California
There is only one word for these advocates and the others that followed…..Rock Stars!
I have learned from the best. The frail kitten morphed into a lion that can roar. Why, because I have to fight for him because he has no voice. I know Nick the best and what works for him. I don’t have to agree with the team. In my matter of fact approach I simply state my parent concerns and have them put in writing in the IEP. So parents, if you don’t agree, then push your chair back, state that you don’t agree and do not sign it. You may have to take it to the next level if you get a push back. That’s when you use the two words that can evoke the most fear…Due Process! (Thank you Kendra, Nick’s Private Occupational Therapist for giving me the courage to do these things.)
Nick at private occupational therapy with Kendra
More fun with Kendra
And please, do not call me “The Mom”, or “Nick’s Mom.” The name is Mrs. Unnerstall. Yes, IEP meetings can be scary. But parents, don’t be fraidy cats. Just get prepared! Request those reports and goals ahead of time. Schedule a meeting with the case manager before hand to make sure you are on the same page. Communicate with the teacher so there are no surprises. And finally if you don’t feel supported, then bring an advocate to the meeting. That’s what is in my noggin this week. Until next Monday, may you find the inner lion within you and fight the good fight!