Previous IEP Posts:
Don't Call them Boys with Aspergers, Call them Boys
You Know it Never Ends
From Few Words to One Kvetchy Kid
WOOHOO, It's Officially Senior Year
Don't Yell, Just Embrace Your Inner Bitch
Reprise: Don't Yell Just Embrace Your Inner Bitch: Dealing with Bullying and IEPs
Self-Esteem, It's not a Trophy It's Reality
Back to School: Transition and Perspective
Self-Contained to the Future
Schedules, Oasis, Rules and Love
Review and Reset
Standardized Testing: Blessing, Curse, Somewhere Inbetween
Sensory Issues While Growing Up
Talking About ESY
Demystifying Written Language
"Science" of Autism, Who Gives a Crap-Practical is What Counts
Setting Goals and Expectations
It's September, So It's Time to Talk About Schools Failing Boys....Yet Again
Getting Ready for IEP Season
Aspects of a Special Needs Village: Conflict Management
The Individual Education Program, or IEP, generated by a school districts Committee on Special Education (CSE) is the outline for support and therapies that a child is entitled to during the school year. It is based upon actual psycho-educational testing performed either by the school and/or a private psychologist. The IEP details what the issues are that the child faces and how they are to be worked on during the school year.
The CSE sets goals for each child based upon the testing. Depending upon the issues faced, the goals can be both long-term and/or short-term. Goals can be intertwined or completely unrelated. The only actual requirement is that they be based upon a real quantifiable need of the student. These goals are also not limited to educational supports, but can also include speech therapy (articulation as well as pragmatic), occupational therapy, physical therapy, social skills support, emotional development and even executive functioning goals.
The CSE details the classroom configuration, and classroom supports, the child will have in order to reach their goals. Classrooms can range from self-contained, to co-taught with para support, to basic co-taught, to regular education with para support or regular education with special education consult. In fact, the school district is not limited to any particular classroom design, except for what the district itself has decided to offer. The district also needs to ensure that whatever classroom is designated for the student it is the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) that allows for a Free and appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
The IEP also outlines what accommodations the student will receive as far as testing, homework, class assignments and any physical needs. There can be extended test time, alternative location, computer use, lessening of homework amount, extended time to hand in essays, in addition to supportive technology for classrooms, gym and recess. There can be a discussion of accommodations fro sensory issues, auditory processing and language processing issues. Special detailed ideas for scheduling and even allowing a student to come and go at different times from class, can be spelled out in the IEP.
There are sections of the IEP that detail management ideas for each student and what has and has not worked. They do talk about some strengths of the student but in the end the real reason for the IEP is because the child is not doing well and its purpose is to outline these deficits and actively try to teach the child self-help skills. The realistic approach to life is that a child's disability is not going to go away. It is part of their brain. Some of the outward, noticeable issues may ameliorate, but that does not mean the disability is gone. It will never be gone. The real and final purpose of an IEP is to teach the child to be able to function successfully in the world-at-large.
The problem however, that is also part and parcel of this system, is that it is terribly negative. The way the IDEA is written is that a student has to have a quantifiable deficit within their education in order to qualify for services. Basically a student has to be failing for them to garner support. And not simply failing a little, but noticeable failing to the point that they are not gaining educationally at all. A child that falls within the AVERAGE of psychological testing is not considered eligible for services. This average can range from 25-75 percentile. So even a child with a low average score is not eligible for support. (This of course can be devastating for a child who really does need help but is not entitled under law for the support.)
The notion that by the time the child finally receives services that they are total and abject failures is pervasive through the legislation. By this time, the student has developed a terrible complex, believes themselves stupid, have been told that they are lazy or lacking in the requisite abilities that are needed to achieve. Their self-esteem destruction is almost, if not already, complete.
So the issue is what to do about it? How do you get those who work with your child to concentrate on their positive attributes as well as teach to their deficits? What do you, a parent, have to do in order to get the school to think about the entire child and not simply the one in the IEP?
1. Make sure that you write a letter to their teachers outlining the positive aspects of your child. Tell the teachers if your child is artistic, athletic, kind, loving and caring, etc. That they want to be outgoing. They want to be helpful. They want to be liked.
2. Make sure that you and the teachers figure out what are your child's strengths and plan some activities around those.
3. Harness your child's obsessions or idiosyncrasies for the better. Channel how these issues can be used for the development of your child. Make your child's challenges into a positive aspect of their personalities. Remember Nobel Prizes are handed out to scientists who make discoveries by being obsessed with one minuscule area.
While you cannot change the legislative purpose of the IDEA to include a more positive approach, you can insist that:
1. The school in helping your child, do it in a positive manner by seeing your child before they see the disability. Makes sure that the school doesn't judge your child by their disability. That they do not decide to minimize who your child happens to be based solely on a diagnosis. (MrGS enjoyed preforming Shakespeare in his 8th grade English class, so he wanted to try out for the school play in highschool. The Special Education Department head at the high school told MrGS he couldn't try out for the school play because people with autism don't understand feelings and you need to understand feelings in order to act. Yes, that teacher was gone by the end of the year. Unfortunately the damage was already done.) It is important to remember that many of our children are very prone to suggestion and a child when told that they are incapable by a "higher-authority-figure" will take it to heart.
2. The school needs to engage your child in their education and make it an enjoyable experience even if the only way to do that is to be rather unconventional. EX: If a child is obsessed with baseball make sure that the lessons bring baseball into the program. If a child is obsessed with the color purple, make sure that there is alot of purple surrounding them. If they feel more comfortable sitting on an exercise ball rather than in a desk chair, put that exercise ball at their table. (CM2 felt more comfortable with a butterfly paperweight on his desk. He liked to hold it in his hand too. It was a tactile issue. He took it everywhere with him when he changed classrooms.)
3. They can also allow your child to teach their classroom about their disability. EX: CM2 did a power point presentation for his 4th grade class all about aspergers. This way he understood himself and they understood him. It was done very positively, emphasizing his strengths. While many may think that such a presentation is a bad idea, you need to remember that in many cases your child already stands out. It might be a good idea to explain why they do, so that there are no rumors, innuendos and maybe just maybe if others understand who your child is, there may be less of an issue with bullying. (No guarantee, but it worked for CM2. He was one of those rare Aspies who was not bullied during k-12, except in the way that typical 15-year-old-boys seem to be pain in the butts to each other.)
4. Have the school put your child in a Circle of Friends or Counseling group that includes typical students. That way they will see, that they are not the only ones with issues and that every can help each other and be supportive of each other when issues arise. Have the school create lunch buddies for your child. The school should focus on trying to include your child in every walk of school life, not just in the classroom. And yes while the school cannot make others befriend your child, when compassion and understanding are taught, instead of allowing a Lord of the Flies mentality, it does work.
Lastly YOU BE POSITIVE. Your child will take their cue from you. You have a positive outlook and so will they. You help them be the best that they can be and they will believe they can achieve anything they dream.