Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Help With IEP's

OverviewResponding to one of last week's posts, "Miz Sharon" sent the following email:
 "I truly enjoyed your blog as well (especially the post on graphic novels. I learned how to read through comic books).

Do you think you may add a post in which you provide tips for parents of children with autism? My child has autism, and trying to sort out the lingo such as "IEP" can be confusing. The school also uses the term "case manager" for special education teacher, although I let the school staff know that in my opinion, case managers were not the same as special education teachers."
What I did this week was begin addressing her question by debunking IEP's.  As I don't know Sharon's child's specific issues (autism encompasses so many different levels and types of learning, cognitive functioning and educational issues) it may be more helpful addressing IEPs.
IEP Basics:   Unfortunately there is no standard IEP (Individualized Educational Program)  form to be followed which makes it so much more challenging for parents and students to navigate.  (Which is why I can't really address who Sharon's "case manager" should be.)  There are, however, certain basics to an IEP:
  • An IEP is a detailed program delineating specific educational services, accommodations and learning plans for all students receiving special educational assistance;
  • The way IEP's are organized will vary but certain information must be included:
    • It should accurately describe your child's current school-related performance.
    • Annual goals must be stated and broken down into short -term objectives.  [Note: make sure these objectives are clearly stated and can be easily assessed.]
    • There should be an explanation of how much of the school day (if any) will be spent in the regular classroom vs. resource room vs. self-contained classroom;
    • Any test modifications your child will need must be clearly stated.  If tests are inappropriate for your child and/or he/she is excused from these tests - that too must be clearly stated.  IF your child is excused from testing make sure the IEP specifies how your child will be evaluated in lieu of the standardized test.
    • If outside services are needed make sure the IEP states when, where, how frequently the services will be provided and how long the services will last.
    • NOTE:  Make sure there is a clear plan to evaluate your child's progress. (Some IEPs fall short in this area - make sure your child's does not.)
  • Certain individuals must attend the meeting where the IEP is developed and written:
    • There must be at least one regular education teacher (if the student is taking part in the 'regular' classroom);
    • There must be a special education teacher;
    • Someone to discuss test results taken to classify/diagnose the student's learning issues must be present (it could be a school counselor, principal, or district representative and will also vary across schools/states);
  • I recommend that a parent ALWAYS be there to advocate for your child's needs, and listen carefully to what is and what is not being said.   Do not let professionals leave the room until you understand what is in the IEP.  
  • The student can (and older kids - should) attend as well.
  • The law requires that IEP's be reviewed and/or revised at least once a year, but you can ask for more meetings if you deem them necessary.
Helpful tips to prepare for the IEP meeting:
  • Review grades, test scores, teacher comments (from this year and/or previous years).  Make sure you understand your child's needs.  
  • You may want to invite and/or consult with an outside child advocate to help you articulate your child's needs.
  • Come prepared with a list of your child's strengths and weaknesses - make sure these are considered when developing a program.  These skills (in addition to academic subjects) can include attention, memory, social skills, physical coordination, ability to express oneself, affinities your child loves doing and what he or she does not, what study strategies seem to work over others... Use this profile to help address his or her issues.
  • Research possible options available to kids with your child's learning issues.  The web now makes this so much easier!
  • Come up with your own list of goals you want achieved over the course of the school year.
  • Talk to your child (if appropriate) about what he or she thinks he or she needs/wants.
  • If there have been previous IEP's read them -evaluate what worked and what did or did not work - and why this may be the case.  Make sure what worked before is modeled again and what did not work is 'tweaked' in this next version.

Helpful links:The following are various websites that will help debunk an IEP. 

MY CHILD'S SPECIAL NEEDS A Guide to the Individualized Education Program Archived Information

[PDF] A Parent's Guide to Understanding the IEP Process Welcome Parents 

Top 8 Essential Parts of an Individual Education Program Understanding IDEA IEP Requirements - Learn What an IEP Must Contain By Ann Logsdon, Guide

A Student's Guide to the IEP By: Marcy McGahee-Kovac (2002) 

Your Child's IEP: Practical and Legal Guidance for Parents By: Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright (2003)

Also, to all who follow this blog, Miz Sharon has a wonderful blog you may want to check out.  She regularly presents interesting "finds" (mostly dealing with writing) she's discovered on the internet.  You may want to check it out.

So please let me know if this helps, if this addresses your concerns, and please let me and others following know what has and has not worked for you.  Finally, like Miz Sharon, please feel free to ask for information on any of your child's learning issues.

Thanks, I hope to hear from you!


  1. You definitely want your child's case manager (the special ed teacher will be there anyway) to attend IEP meetings with you. You and the case manager are a team. If your case manager has followed your child for a number of years, your case manager has insight that a teacher does not (the teacher has worked with your child since the school year began. Is that enough time to learn a great deal about your child?)

  2. Here are a couple of things I've learned over the years:

    1. Read that document that tells you your rights as a parent and make sure you understand it. Teachers and administrators are busy people who almost always have your child's best interests at heart, but they will pay closer attention if you know your rights and can talk the talk.

    2. If your child has and IEP, as a parent/guardian it is your right to call an IEP meeting at any time and the school must comply within a proscribed period of time. Don't abuse this privilege, but do use it when necessary.

    3. When an objective is set, ask what that will look like in the classroom. Will technology be involved? How about a change of seating? How will extra time affect his other classes? How much of the intervention will be "pull out" and how much will be "push in"?

    4. You know your child better than anyone else OUTSIDE of school. Bring what you know to the table, but understand that school is a different environment and most children behavior differently (usually better!) at school.

    5. Do bring up home-based school-related concerns. For example, my son used every ounce of energy to concentrate and perform in school. He collapsed when he got home and went to be early throughout his school career. Homework was always an issue. Some kids also struggle with organizing the material they need from home for school. Think about things like changing for gym or changing from boots to shoes and how that can impact your child at school.

    6. Remember the old saying that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Teachers are people, too. IEP meetings can be emotional. Keep your cool, be prepared and make every attempt to acknowledge the efforts of the teachers on your child's behalf. I almost always said something like "I know. And I'm sorry. We're working on that at home, too." And don't forget to say thank you.

  3. Sorry for the typos in 4, and for my (again) long-winded response. Great posts!

  4. Question sparked by this blog entry: what about kids at the other end of the "special needs" spectrum? The "gifted" kids in my school district have special programming offered from 2nd grade through high school; although the services rendered depend on very specific numbers from very specific tests administered at different times during the year. For example, a child can be identified as gifted in reading, science, and math...but not identified as "cognitively" gifted. When this is the case, they are not offered any services at all! (Frustrating for the parent, let me tell you!) Can you discuss the process by which kids are typically identified as gifted and what schools are required to provide for them? (I realize it might depend on what state or other factors, etc.) Thanks!! (Oh...thanks for visiting my blog, too!)

  5. Thank you, Karen. I actually work for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and would love to write about gifted and talented education.

    You have hit the nail on the head: Defining "gifted"

    I would love to do a post - and will keep you posted!