In 2004 an updated version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was passed. With this passage, parents of children with special needs have become an important part of their child’s education team. Together, parents work with educators to develop the child’s individualized education plan (IEP) that outlines the goals for the school year and special support needed to achieve them. As a crucial part of your child’s education team, here are some tips to keep in mind.
• Maintain great records. Each IEP is an extension of past services. Or if it is the first IEP, it is based on medical and cognitive assessments, as well as observations, says Amy James author of School Success for Children of Special Needs. Children go from school to school and doctor to doctor and their file follows them. It is best if a parent can keep their own records to make sure that all data is following the child. This is important as all services are determined by what is in that file.
• Prepare to take an active part. An IEP is not just a school document, says James. It is an individual education plan and much education takes place at home. Parents need to be an active part of it from self-monitoring the school progress to carrying out supplemental activities at home that enhance the development process. James suggests parents also discuss the progress or lack of progress even if it seems minor. “Cognition development is indicated by many seemingly unimportant actions, such as my child has lost his fourth tooth and still is not reading.” An indication that testing may be necessary. “Or my child can follow two-step directions at home, but not at school.” An indication a milestone has been achieved, but environment contributes to its successful display.
• Take control of the IEP. Amy Knapp, veteran in the IEP process and founder of Family Organizer, advises parents to control the IEP by arriving with a list of questions. Get everything in writing and in quantitative form. If you don’t like the direction the meeting takes or you are not as prepared as you should be, you can always suspend the IEP and reconvene at another time. When you reconvene, bring support if you need it. There are organizations in almost every community that offer advocating support to parents.
• Ask for more. Knapp advises parents to always ask for more than what the school offers and seek outside opinions whenever possible. School assessments are done with budgets in mind, Knapp warns. If you’re told the school can’t do something, ask if they can’t or won’t. If they reply they can’t, politely ask for a copy of the law or other documents that prevent the action. If they say they won’t because of past actions, reply that you are not concerned with what has been done in the past. Politely remind the school you are advocating for your child and want to make sure he receives the support he needs to reach his fullest potential.
Although the IEP process can be complicated, the more information you have the better prepared you will be as part of your child’s education team.
The Institutes of Achievement of Human Potential recently published The Pathway to Wellness filled with more than 240 vital points for parents of special needs children and is free for the asking.
For your copy, contact:The Institutes of Achievement of Human Potential, 8801 Stenton Avenue, Wyndmoor, PA 19038 www.iahp.org.
Mary Jo Rulnick is a freelance writer from Pittsburgh.
IEP “Don’t Checklist” for Parents
When it comes to your child’s individualized education plan, Dr. Mark Mostert, expert in disabilities and special education and former consultant for United Nations’ Disability Committee, offers a “don’t” list for parents.
• Think of the school as an adversary.
• Appear combative or uncooperative.
• Miss appointments or ignore the school’s attempts to communicate with you.
• Use your legal rights as a tool of intimidation.
• Repeatedly ask questions that have been answered and that you already understand.
• Ask irrelevant questions.
• Ignore the school’s suggestions for how you might support their efforts at home.
• Assume that you and/or your child have no legal rights or recourse under special education law.