It’s time once again to go over Sawyer’s IEP and plan for the following year with Sawyer’s teachers; next week I’ll go discuss what changes we’ll need to make for Sawyer as he enters 5th grade.
An IEP is an Individualized Education Program. Before I had Sawyer, I had heard of kids having an IEP, but I didn’t really understand what that meant. However, as a special needs parent, IEP meetings are a yearly thing in which I get together with Sawyer’s teachers to discuss what needs he may have that other kids don’t, and how we can all work together to ensure his educational needs are being met. An IEP is different than a 504 plan, which is formed when a child may need access to certain services, but does not need altered methods of learning. For example, Sawyer may need someone to rephrase questions to him for homework and/or tests, or he may need more time to complete his assignments, which means he needs an IEP. Another student in his class may have type 1 diabetes, which means he or she needs access to special treatment, such as having a snack if their sugar gets too low, but doesn’t require changes to how they learn; this student would need a 504 plan.
So what does an IEP include? The US Department of Education says that by law, the IEP must include certain information about the child and the educational program designed to meet his or her unique needs. In a nutshell, this information is:
Current performance: The IEP must state how the child is currently doing in school (known as present levels of educational performance). This information usually comes from the evaluation results such as classroom tests and assignments, individual tests given to decide eligibility for services or during reevaluation, and observations made by parents, teachers, related service providers, and other school staff. The statement about “current performance” includes how the child’s disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general curriculum.
Annual goals: These are goals that the child can reasonably accomplish in a year. The goals are broken down into short-term objectives or benchmarks. Goals may be academic, address social or behavioral needs, relate to physical needs, or address other educational needs. The goals must be measurable-meaning that it must be possible to measure whether the student has achieved the goals.
Special education and related services: The IEP must list the special education and related services to be provided to the child or on behalf of the child. This includes supplementary aids and services that the child needs. It also includes modifications (changes) to the program or supports for school personnel-such as training or professional development-that will be provided to assist the child.
Participation with nondisabled children: The IEP must explain the extent (if any) to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and other school activities.
Participation in state and district-wide tests: Most states and districts give achievement tests to children in certain grades or age groups. The IEP must state what modifications in the administration of these tests the child will need. If a test is not appropriate for the child, the IEP must state why the test is not appropriate and how the child will be tested instead.
Dates and places: The IEP must state when services will begin, how often they will be provided, where they will be provided, and how long they will last.
Transition service needs: Beginning when the child is age 14 (or younger, if appropriate), the IEP must address (within the applicable parts of the IEP) the courses he or she needs to take to reach his or her post-school goals. A statement of transition services needs must also be included in each of the child’s subsequent IEPs.
Needed transition services: Beginning when the child is age 16 (or younger, if appropriate), the IEP must state what transition services are needed to help the child prepare for leaving school.
Age of majority: Beginning at least one year before the child reaches the age of majority, the IEP must include a statement that the student has been told of any rights that will transfer to him or her at the age of majority. (This statement would be needed only in states that transfer rights at the age of majority.)
Measuring progress: The IEP must state how the child’s progress will be measured and how parents will be informed of that progress.
IEP meetings don’t always have to be about creating or altering the IEP itself; sometimes you can hold an IEP meeting if there’s a conflict with a teacher or another student, and in the meeting the decision may be made to alter the IEP to help fit the student’s needs better and make life easier at school. For instance, my friend Julie had to request an IEP meeting because of a child who kept bullying her son, and his IEP was altered to state that he must not sit anywhere near the child in question. I’ve also had friends call IEP meetings to resolve conflict between a teacher and their child. This doesn’t mean that you should use the IEP to make demands just because you don’t like a certain teacher or child, but it can definitely be helpful in resolving conflict.
We have been extremely blessed to have a very caring and accommodating school staff who happily work with us to meet Sawyer’s needs. Our school district has always been wonderful to work with, and I’m so very thankful for that, because that’s not always the case; I’ve heard many horror stories about other parents who have to fight tooth and nail to get the services or accommodations their child needs, and that makes me so sad. School is hard enough for kids as it is; it shouldn’t be made harder for them because they can’t get the accommodations they need to learn. Sawyer absolutely loves his school and teachers, and I’m beyond grateful that we have such a wonderful staff that love him like their own and want the best for him. For this reason, I never dread IEP time at the end of each school year. If anything, I look forward to celebrating progress Sawyer has made with his teachers. Even if there are issues we need to work on, we are always able to come together to figure out good solutions for my sweet boy.
Over the years, I’ve had many friends come to me for advice on how to approach their child’s first IEP meeting. Keep in mind- I’m no expert, but I have lived the life of a special needs parent almost all of Sawyer’s life, so I’ve learned a lot within the last 9 years. Here are some of my best tips:
- Remember that you are your child’s biggest advocate. You may not be an expert, but you are the person who knows your child best. Don’t be afraid to speak up on your child’s behalf if you know something is not going to work for them.
- Your goal is to work WITH the school, not against it. Approach the meeting with the mindset that you and your child’s school staff are a team, even if there is a conflict.
- Your child may act completely different at school than at home and may need totally different solutions to get through a school day than solutions used at home. Share behaviors your child exhibits with the staff, and help them understand why your child may present this behavior. It could be key in helping to prevent meltdowns or overstimulation.
- Remember that the first letter of IEP stands for “individualized”. Make sure the plan is tailored to best fit YOUR child, and don’t just go along with suggestions if you don’t think they’ll work for your child.
- Keep an open line of communication with your child’s teacher. Make sure they know you’re always available to talk and discuss any concerns or ways the IEP may need to be updated. Tell them your preferred method of contact and encourage them to use it often.
As far as my goals for Sawyer, I want to encourage him to explore other interests besides video games, including reading, sports, and music. I have some ideas for ways I’d like to change his IEP up for this coming year, and I’m excited to work with our school’s staff to make that happen.