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Thursday, 24 January 2013

The ABCs of IEPs.

So, the school year hasn't even started and we've already had our first IEP meeting. As far as IEP meetings go, it wasn't too bad. But it could have been a lot better too. I'm fortunate to sit directly on the fence and it's not nearly as uncomfortable as you'd think! Yes, it can be tricky to balance some times but it's getting better. 

The reason I am so fortunate is that I'm not just a parent of a child with a disability, but I'm a special education professional. I consider myself to be an advocate, a loud one at that. I have insider knowledge. Sometimes (most times) more than the educational professionals I am working with. I want to share what I know for one sole purpose - so that those who don't have a voice, a clear voice, can still be heard. I desire to educate educators and to empower parents.

Difficulties arise when the fence I'm sitting on changes. Some times it's like a nice wide wooden handrail. almost comfortable to sit on. It's easy to go from the parent side to the professional side. When the relationship is like barbed wire, it's not such a comfortable place to sit. I hope your fence isn't like barbed wire, regardless of whether you sit on it like me, or are firmly planted on either the educator or parent side.

Before you start your school year, here are some tips and insider knowledge about IEPs. I hope it helps.

1. The whole IEP process is a collaborative one. It's not a matter of the school telling the parents what's going to happen. The idea is to get consistency between home and school (and if you're anything like us, multiple therapy providers as well!). There is no hierarchy of people who have degrees above parents. As a professional, I've always considered the parents as the most valuable source of information. No one know their child like they do, no one else coordinates services like they do. If you don't feel consulted, speak up. Your voice is an important one.

2. IEPs are directly linked to funding accountability. If it's in the IEP a school can justify spending money on it. As such they need to be written in a particular way. Goals MUST be measurable. The acronym we use is:

 S  specific

  M   measurable

  A  attainable

  R  relevant

  time bound

The measurable element is one of the most important.  Saying they 'have difficulty with', 'will improve', 'will use appropriate language' or ' will understand' is vague and unhelpful. Also, make sure the goal is specific. 'Tommy will improve in maths' doesn't tell you anything. 

Giangreco, M. (1998).  Ants in His Pants: Absurdities and Realities of Special Education

3. The goals need to relate specifically to the impairment category.  If it's an intellectual impairment you can expect to see some curriculum goals. If it's ASD then social or communication goals would be appropriate. Any participation goal should be linked directly back to the impairment.

4. If there are any specialists or therapists helping out, then their reports should be consulted when writing the IEP. Better yet, can they attend an IEP meeting or speak directly to the classroom teacher or SE teacher before they review the IEP? If your child is attending more than one facility or service, there is still only 1 IEP. Consistency is the key.

5. An IEP does not replace the national curriculum (which in fact supports our kids very well, but that's another blog!). It's not like a Bill of Rights in that what is written into it is exhaustive and final. It is an opportunity to focus efforts. There should be no more than 5 or 6 goals, sometimes as little as 2.  Again - these should be specific to the impairment category. 

6. It's the frequency and intensity of adjustments that determines the funding, and these must be an accurate reflection of what happens in the classroom. Ask what level of funding your child receives.   It will be either level 2, 3 or 4 with the highest level of funding going to level 4, and this is usually for children with multiple impairments or a completely alternate education program. Level 4 gets about $10, 000 and let's face it, that doesn't pay for a quarter of a full time teacher aide. (This is correct in Qld, funding may differ in other states, but you are entitled to ask how much, and how is it spent).

I hope that all this helps some. If you want to know something specific, just ask. Ask me, ask your school, ask your therapy providers, ask other parents. What matters is that we give those who need it a voice. Speak up. I always tell the parents I work with that 'the squeaky wheel gets the grease'. You are entitled to be heard, and given the input or answers you need. 

In reality, there should be no fence to sit on. There shouldn't be a 'parent' or an 'educator' side of the fence. Aren't we all working towards the same thing?  

Good luck with your first school day of 2013! 

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