The Individual Education Plan or IEP Part 3: The IEP meeting Friday, Nov 20 2009 


Alright, you have done your prep work, research, and you are ready to sit down with your child’s IEP team and find the supports that will make your child successful. I’m going to start this with a list of “Dos” and “Don’ts.” If some of them seem like common sense then you are ahead of the game.

DO:

Dress Nicely
Remain Calm
Bring materials with you
Have your materials organized
Have outside OTs, PTs, SLPs and other experts attend the meeting
(If a couple) Sit on opposite sides of the table
(If single) Sit at the head of the table
Have a notepad handy and take notes

DON’T:

Dress like you are going to the gym afterward
Attack everything they team members say
Bring cookies, muffins or other snacks
Agree when told that your child doesn’t listen, sit still, etc.

First off, if you dress nicely they will take you more seriously. It seems elementary, but I have seen folks show up on clothes that looked like they had never been washed. I’m also going to give you a mantra to help you stay calm. “Whoever loses his/her temper loses the battle.” Its okay to be strong and firm, but yelling and screaming will derail all the positive work you have done in a second. If you have materials, bring them and make sure they are organized. Bring your child’s other therapists if they will attend. They can help you make a good case for your child receiving more services. You need to be able to see everyone’s faces to gauge reactions, thoughts, etc. As a couple you can do this most effectively by sitting on opposite sides of the table, and if single sit on the end.

You can’t attack everything people say and expect them to take you seriously, or even want to work with you. That’s the key to the IEP team. You have to get everyone on your child’s side. I’m not saying be a milquetoast, but respect everyone’s right to their opinion. You can change their minds later with the right tools. I’m going to capitalize and restate this one for you: DO NOT BRING COOKIES, MUFFINS OR OTHER SNACKS TO YOUR IEP MEETING! Some administrators may view it as a bribe, others may refuse on principle, but the main reason not to do it is because the IEP meeting is a business meeting, not a social event. The last one is a bit of a paradox, since I’ve told you not to attack everything they say. However, allowing people to have their say and agreeing with them are two different things. You can listen to them respectfully and still not nod your head or say “Yes I have seen that.”

The key, in my opinion, is to start the meeting positively. We are very friendly with our child’s IEP team. Typically it will start with a review of information, and this is a good time to present your child’s PLOP. Make sure it is entered in the IEP. This puts a positive view of your child right up front. Other people on the team will also add their observations at this point. This is a good thing. It starts the process that I like to call “puking.”

Working with our kids is hard. As parents, we know that. Just because it is hard, however, doesn’t mean it is impossible. However, in the beginning of the meeting I want you to listen. Be an active listener. Ask questions, make notes of rebuttals or ideas and show genuine interest. The puking can go on for over an hour, due to some weird group speak phenomenon I have witnessed. When the puking finally peters out, then and only then can you go to work. It may take a while. We have had IEP meetings lasting 3-4 hours. Don’t worry. Take all the time you need to make sure they are done puking all over the conference table, then you can start working on changing their attitude.

As an advocate, you have to be the catalyst. Since the people reading this probably don’t have a law degree, we have to figure out how to be catalysts in a positive way that makes people want to help us. The first part of that is listening. The second part is responding. Its tough to get through the puking without getting mad, but remember whoever loses his temper loses the battle. Remain calm, and make notes about how you will address these issues.

Your time to shine is when the team starts going through the modifications and supports. This is where you start asking for things, and when a team member objects using their “puke,” you simply use your notes to refute their argument. For example, one IEP meeting we attended, the consensus was that our son didn’t listen. We know that, as he has an auditory processing deficit. However, we had to let them puke that out for a good half hour. Once they were done my wife said “He has auditory processing deficits. He may not understand what you are asking him to do.” Then it was like a light bulb came on.

The real misconception with autism and autism spectrum disorders is that these kids are behavior problems. In fact, most kids on the spectrum have sensory issues and their “behavior problems” are due to overloaded sensoriums that lead to them acting out. This is the key point we need our IEP teams to understand and support. When they are puking, listen to the complaints. Are they complaining about behavior? If so, you should always put that back on them. “What was happening when he had this behavior?” “Who was in the room?” “What was the class doing?” The hope is that you can find what triggers and overloads your child’s senses and give him support then, because that’s when he needs it.

Okay, this one is long enough. Next up: What to do if things don’t work out at the table.

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The Individual Education Plan or IEP Part 2: What services should I request? Thursday, Nov 12 2009 


Okay, so you have your IEP meeting scheduled and the team is preparing to assemble. Now its time to get ready. Most school districts are not going to volunteer any services, so you need to be clear about what you need going in. If possible, include your spouse or partner, and talk about what supports your child will need.

Prior to the meeting you need to write a Present Level of Performance, or PLOP. This is your chance to say something good about your child. I was lucky enough to attend a wonderful class on writing a PLOP at our local Parent Resource Center. I learned a number of strategies for presenting my son’s challenges in a positive way. The real key, I have found, is to search for causes. For example, my son is very active. However, his activity level has 2 causes. One positive, his natural curiosity, and one negative, his sensory overload. So, in his PLOP, I characterize him as being curious but suggest support for his sensory overload. You can download my son’s PLOP if you need an example.

First you must establish goals. Typically goals will require some sort of baseline report showing a deficit. Most schools will offer to do an assessment. We have always shied away from this, as we feel that school personnel training is primarily geared toward educational deficits. Add to that the fact that they are not doctors, or at least not medical doctors and you can figure out why we have always tried to have evaluations and assessments done outside of the school system. Sometimes it has cost us extra money, as our insurance doesn’t cover everything. However, having documentation to back up your claims is often necessary to get the school system to do what is necessary for your child. The goals will be established at the table by the team. I mention it here because you will need to have any evaluations and assessments you want to share available for the IEP.

Goals will typically be centered around speech and language deficits, inabilities to function in the classroom or other issues specific to your child. Our IEP has 20 goals, and they range from simple language based goals to complex social goals. Try to have an idea going in of what goals you have for your child. Do you want him to speak appropriately at his current age? Do you want him to sit still in class for 30 minute increments without assistance? Do you want him to engage his peers in a typical fashion several times throughout the day? Goals are where you put that stuff into writing.

Let’s talk about supports. Asking for support is a very appropriate way to quantify your child’s needs. For example, saying “my son has autism” doesn’t mean anything to an IEP team. However, saying “My son needs support with his academics because he has difficulty understanding the teacher” gives the team a direction to go. I would actually recommend being even more specific. For example, our son has sensory needs, and when we asked for support we were very specific. His IEP reads “sensory breaks every 30-45 minutes.” The more specific you are the easier it will be to implement your child’s IEP, or, worst case, determine if it has not been implemented.

Common supports are:

Speech therapy
Occupational Therapy
Physical Therapy
Applied Behavioral Therapy
Assistive Technology

I have always felt that a kid with a speech delay needs speech therapy 5 days a week. We have 3 days of speech at the school and we had, until recently, 2 days of speech outside the school. Our son has sensory issues, so we do 1 day of OT in school and 2 outside of school. However, we also have OT consult time built in to his IEP so the OT can help make his environment more sensory friendly. We don’t do PT or ABA but know other families who do.

Assistive technology is tougher to get. Some kids who have severe language delays can qualify for an alphasmart, or other text based communication devices. Our son uses an FM device to help with his auditory processing delay. This is simply a pair of noise cancelling headphones plugged into a small receiver. His teacher wears the microphone, and it helps him isolate her voice from the rest of the background noise.

These are just some of the options available. Get out there and talk to other parents. Network and find out what is working for other kids, then incorporate what you think will work into your action plan. Next up: Sitting down at the table for the IEP.

Take a minute today and vote. Tuesday, Nov 3 2009 


Look, I don’t like to get on my soapbox (despite all evidence to the contrary!) but if you have a child with a disability you need to be heard. We with kids on the spectrum are reaping the benefits of those who came before us, paved the way and in many cases are still fighting for the rights of our kids. Help them by finding out about your local, state and national politicians and voting.

If you can help on a campaign or lobby for our kids, that is great. You can write letter too. Every little bit helps, because our kids will be forgotten if we don’t constantly remind those in power that they have rights too. However, our rights start with the vote. It is both our privilege and responsibility to vote, so do it!

At any rate, I’m not trying to get preachy. I just want to tell everyone that if we don’t put the right people in office to advocate for our kids they will be left out. Don’t let our kids get left behind. Vote.

The Individual Education Plan or IEP part 1: The basics Monday, Nov 2 2009 


Okay, let’s start with the basic elements of the Individual Education Plan or IEP. I’ll go over who needs one, why they need one, the legalities involved and some alternatives that are allowable by law but maybe not the best for your kid.

An IEP is a plan for your child’s education that will allow you and the school to make accomodations for your child’s special needs. The official legal definition is somewhat longer, but that is sufficient for what we are doing here. IEPs are governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA 2004. 2004 is the most recent update to the act. You can search the act in full at the Wrightslaw law center. Also, if you are looking for a good legal guide of your rights and responsibilities, wrightslaw is the best advocacy resource out there for parents.

A quick note here: If your child is in a child find/early intervention program you will not have an IEP. You will have an IFSP, or Individual Family Services Plan. When you transition to your local school that will change to an IEP.

IEPs are put together by a team, which typically consists of the parents, the child’s teacher, a school system representative, the principal of the school, the child’s case manager and any specialists that may be involved in the child’s care. For example, our IEP meetings also have an autism specialist who works for the county, an occupational therapist and a speech therapist. Those services are critical to our sons education and as such we need their input when we plan his IEP.

IEP terms last a year, and by law must be renewed prior to then.The reason this is important is that the IEP is actually a contract, enforceable and actionable by law. As such, many schools are loathe to volunteer services because they know they have to provide them. This is where we as parents need to be experts. It helps if you can speak with other parents, do some research on the internet and consult with any specialists you see prior to attending an IEP meeting.

However, if you draft an IEP and are unhappy with it, as a member of the team you have the right to call another IEP meeting at any time. At the end of every meeting everyone on the team must sign off on the IEP. Again, if you are unhappy, you do not have to sign. You can also write “signed under protest” above your signature in order to show that you are not satisfied with the school’s solutions or supports for your child.

The key thing to take away from this article is that you are the expert on your child. Administrators and teachers always present themselves as experts on children, but nobody knows more about a child than his parents. Remember that and you will do just fine.

Next up: What will the school offer me?

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