May 28, 2011

Educating Alex - the IEP

One of the many tools that educators and parents use to educate a child with special needs is called the IEP. The IEP, or individualized education plan is put together by a team of educators as well as the parents. In a perfect world it is a great tool.

The IEP is born when the child enters the public school system – which was six in our case, because we held Alex back a year. Additionally, a special education determination must be made. This can be a bit tricky – as I believe that are a lot of children who would greatly benefit from an IEP. However, there are many gray areas in terms of an actual diagnosis. A diagnosis can be anything from slight learning disabilities to severe needs. Many parents struggle with this and often need to hire outside consultants to ensure their child can get services.

In our case - Alex’s special education eligibility was determined at birth. We, our team, and I will speak to the importance of the team philosophy later, put her plan together just before she started kindergarten. As everyone I know has had a different IEP experience I thought the following description from Wikipedia would be best:

An individualized educational plan is designed to meet the unique educational needs of one child, as defined by federal regulations helps kids reach their goals. The IEP must be tailored to the individual student's needs as identified by the evaluation process and must help teachers and related service providers understand the student's disability and how the disability affects the learning process. In other words, the IEP should describe how the student learns, how the student best demonstrates that learning and what teachers and service providers will do to help the student learn more effectively.

The IDEA 2004 requires that an IEP must be written according to the needs of each student who meets eligibility guidelines under the IDEA and state regulations, and it must include the following:

• The child's present levels of academic and functional performance
• Measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals
• How the child's progress toward meeting the annual goals are to be measured and reported to the parents
• Special education services, related services, and supplementary aids to be provided to the child
• Schedule of services to be provided, including when the services are to begin, the frequency, duration and location for the provision of services
• Program modifications or supports provided to school personnel on behalf of the child
• Explanation of any time the child will not participate along with nondisabled children
• Accommodations to be provided during state and district assessments that are necessary to the measuring child's academic and functional performance

The IEP becomes the bible that parents and educators use throughout the child’s educational experience, which can last until the child is 21. In theory this is a successful strategy. I whole heartedly embraced Alex’s IEP and our MDT (multi disciplinary team).

As you might have noticed, I used the past tense with embrace. Until 7th grade, which happened to coincide with our relocation, Alex’s IEP was implemented, monitored, updated, evaluated and most importantly followed! I was kept in the loop and if Alex was struggling with a goal, modifications were made. One might say we were living the dream life that parents with children with special needs should have.

We saw weekly, or monthly, depending on our plateau path, improvements in language, reading, math and general cognitive abilities. I often meet parents of younger children with down syndrome who tell me they think Alex is doing well. I have two statements – early intervention and a supportive school district! I was ignorant as to what was happening in the rest of the world.

I will talk further about Alex’s education later in this series. I am thankful we lived in a well funded and well educated school district when Alex was born. Her foundation was built with expertise and skill. When we left the Chicago area Alex was testing in the 3rd through 5th grade levels in reading and math. I do not think this is the case today.

I really do appreciate the area where we live now. As I said before, the kids here are the nicest, most inclusive group of kids I have ever met. This has given Alex social confidence she never had before. I know this is a skill that will help her as she gets older.

But our IEP is no longer a tool for our educators; I often think they consider it a burden. Alex's academics have suffered, as has her speech. Their expectations and mine are totally different - so I try to educate. I do not want my daughter's future compromised - so sometimes I am that b****. I know there are many, many families in the world that share these frustrations. It should not be so.

In my dreams, I create a school district with the dedication to the IEP that our previous school district had, filled with the kids from our current school district. As I tell my kids – Shoot for the Stars - Perhaps, someday I will.

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