May 30, 2011

Educating Alex - Team Building

The first step in formalizing a young special needs child's educational path is testing. These evaluations look at all aspects of the child; cognitive development, speech, gross and fine motor skills, and address all parental concerns. This should be available through the local school district.

After the comprehensive testing and evaluations are performed a meeting is held. This meeting should be facilitated by a special educator and include members of the evaluation teams. The purpose of this meeting is to review the evaluations, allow the parents to provide input, prepare a draft IEP and begin to build a team.

Before I talk about the team concept I would like to revisit the definition of IEP I used in an earlier entry, it is from Wikipedia:

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.

Alex’s formal testing and presentation meeting occurred before she started kindergarten. I had done my research, spoke to other parents, and thought through how I envisioned Alex's educational experience. I was not only pleasantly surprised, at this first meeting, I was encouraged. This encouragement was around Alex's academic program recommendations, special services suggestions, and overall team philosophy of the school district.

To me, this was our first formal opportunity to build a team, charged with educating my special daughter. This was a collaborative effort, with all parties involved, fully vested and passionate about the success of my child. I never doubted this commitment at any point in Alex’s early education.

This team, at some point or another, over the next seven years consisted of these functional roles: me, special education teacher (case worker), speech therapist, physical and/or occupational therapist, school counselor or social worker, academic aide, principal/asst principal and regular education teacher. The team met regularly, revisited Alex's IEP goals, and put together plans that provided consistency across the curriculum to achieve these goals, For example, if Alex was learning about the solar system in geography, the speech therapist would work on articulation using the names of the planets. It was beautiful!

I truly believe, and attribute much of Alex’s current success to the deep desire of Alex's team to succeed. I have learned since our relocation, without the right team and regularity of service delivery, my daughter is learning in a vacuum. If Alex’s services are not provided in a cohesive, standardized format she does not retain or incorporate new learnings. She can become discouraged, overwhelmed and even defiant. I feel her frustration.

Since our relocation, I have been trying to create this team approach to Alex's education. I am still in the building phase, and it has been a very long phase. I might joke this has something to do with the credit crunch, but funding is always at the bottom of every issue I have ever encountered. I will prevail!

After my most recent meeting, I am feeling more confident that I will be able to create an almost perfect team for Alex. In my world, "lack of funding", is a dirty statement, and not an excuse for improperly preparing my daughter for the world. I will devote as much time as needed to make this a success. Failure is too catastrophic.

I have learned that school districts behave differently, and patience and persistence are the tools needed to construct the perfect building. Change cannot happen overnight, and money is tight. I must learn to be creative and think "out of the box", when it comes to my daughter.

I know this will happen - Yes, even I can learn.

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