Breaking Down IEP Meetings for Autistic Children

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If you are new to the special needs world you may not know what an IEP is or have had to deal with having one yet. IEPs, or Individualized Education Plans, are the holy grail of special needs services in school aged children. An IEP is a “written document that’s developed for each public-school child who is eligible for special education.

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The IEP is created through a team effort and reviewed at least once a year.” There are a few things that must happen before an IEP can be written. Your child must be eligible for special education; meaning that by federal law, a multidisciplinary team must determine that he or she is a child with a disability and he or she requires special education and related services to benefit from the general education program.

IDEA and IEPs

An IEP has two general purposes: “to set reasonable learning goals for a child, and to state the services that the school district will provide for the child.” The concept of IEP’s come from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. IDEA is a federal law that requires certain information to be included in the IEP. It however does not specify how the IEP should look. States and local school systems may include different information; therefore, forms will differ from state to state. IDEA is a very specific law that lists 13 categories of special education, each with its own detailed requirements. Special education pertains to student's aged 3-22 who attend a public institution.

To qualify for an IEP, a child must have one of the identified disabilities and it must “adversely affect their educational performance.” Every school district has the legal responsibility to identify, locate and evaluate children who need special education services. The law calls this “Child Find.”

The 13 Categories:

-Autism
-Blindness
-Deafness
-Emotional Disturbance
-Hearing Impairment
-Mental Retardation (Intellectually Disabled)
-Multiple Disabilities
-Orthopedic Impairment
-Other Health Impairments such as ADHD
-Specific Learning Disability
-Speech or Language Impairment
-Traumatic Brain Injury
-Visual Impairment

The biggest problem with IDEA is that it does not require your school district to provide the very best education for your child, the school district needs to only provide an appropriate education. This sometimes leads to problems with the IEP being followed. Now that you know a little bit about IDEA and how it relates to IEP’s, let’s talk about what the IEP process entails.

IEP Meetings

Your IEP meeting is supposed to be a group effort to find the best way to provide your child with the least restrictive environment possible in which for them to learn and to help your child progress alongside their peers. An IEP meeting must be held within 30 calendar days after it is determined, through a full and individual evaluation, that a child has one of the disabilities listed in IDEA and needs special education and related services.

Per Jan Baumel, MS-The members of the multidisciplinary team who write your child’s IEP include:

“-You, the parents, who have valuable insights and information about his strengths and needs and ideas for enhancing his education
-General education teacher(s) who can share information about classroom expectations and your child’s performance
-A special education teacher who has training and experience in educating children with disabilities and in working with other educators to plan accommodations
-An individual who can interpret the results of your child’s evaluation and use results to help plan an appropriate instructional program
-A representative of the school system who knows about special education services and has the authority to commit resources
-Individuals with knowledge or special expertise about your child that are invited by you and/or the school district
-Representatives from transition services agencies, when such services are being discussed
-Your child, when appropriate, and whenever transition is discussed"

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During the meeting you will set down and discuss Present levels of educational performance, Accommodations, Therapies and Goals.

Present Levels of Educational Performance

-During this “information about your child’s strengths and needs is presented by teachers, parents, and the school staff who evaluated him/her.” Be prepared because comments will be made about how your child is doing in the classroom, including their deficits. They will also provide you with “observations and the results of state and district-wide tests and the special education evaluations that they did.” Besides academic needs, it is noted that any other areas of concern that have been identified, such as language development, behavior, or social skills, should be discussed, as well.

Goals

-The next step is to write measurable goals that he/she can reasonably accomplish in one year. The goals are always done in one-year spans of time, as the IEPs are reviewed at least once annually. Your child’s goals are based on what was “discussed and documented in present levels of educational performance and focus on his needs that result from the disability.” The goals that are discussed should help him or her be involved and progress in the general education curriculum. It may address “academic, social, behavioral, self-help, or address other educational needs.” Know that the goals agreed upon are “not written to maintain skills or help him achieve above grade level.”

Now that the IEP has been written, the whole team has to decide how to make it work properly. Per the same source linked above, “the school district is obligated to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).” To the maximum extent appropriate for both the IEP team has to decide how to educate your child alongside kids without a disability. For most kids, the general education classroom will be the preferred setting.
There are other choices though, including special education classes.

“In addition to the above, the following are part of the IEP:

-The extent, if any, to which your child will not participate with nondisabled kids in the regular class and other school activities
-When services will begin, where and how often they’ll be provided, and how long they’ll last
-Necessary transition services (age 16 or the first IEP that will be in effect when the child turns 16)
These special factors will be considered and addressed in the IEP, depending on your child’s needs:
-Supports and strategies for behavior management, if behavior interferes with her learning or the learning of others
-Language needs as related to the IEP if he has limited mastery, or proficiency, in English
-Communication needs
-Assistive technology devices or services required in order to receive FAPE
-Necessary accommodations in the general education classroom"

Your Role as a Parent in an IEP Meeting

When you are first starting out with the IEP Process the various documents can be hard to decipher. In addition to that, parents can feel overwhelmed when they attend an IEP meeting. There are simply so many people there. The time always goes by quickly, and you may feel rushed. This has always been one of my struggle points, slowing the meetings down to get all the information I need to talk to them about in. I also remember my first few meetings when my son was younger leaving the meeting feeling like I was in over my head. The “educational jargon can be hard to understand, yet you’re supposed to be a full participant in the meeting.” If you are just starting out this may complicate things.

Don’t let your nerves get the best of you. Communicate regularly with school staff so that you’ll have an idea of what the teachers may say at the meeting beforehand. Also, prepare your thoughts before the meeting by writing down the important points you want to make about your child. If you’d like, ask to have your information included in your child’s IEP. Don’t feel like you must be there alone either. You can take someone with you to serve as your support system. If a spouse or family member can’t attend, ask a trusted friend to go with you. If you decide to bring a friend or advocate, you should inform the school (so they are aware of whom you’re bringing.)

Make sure you don’t feel intimidated. You are a team. Ask questions if you don’t understand the terms being used. If necessary, arrange to meet with individuals after the meeting to review their statements or reports. Try to stay focused and positive. If anyone becomes frustrated or angry, ask to have the meeting continued at another date. It’s hard to develop an IEP when emotions have taken over the process. If emotions do flair, remember that you can “sign to show you participated in the meeting, but you don’t have to agree to the goals or services at the meeting. You can take the IEP home to review, get input, and return later.”

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