Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Issues and questions to discuss when you go to your next IEP meeting

Image: Flikr creative Commons- Puuikibeach
We are on school holidays here in Australia so I thought I would sit and write a reflection on Individual planning meetings.  I know this blog has many readers who are parents of secondary age children who have gone through the IEP process.  Therefore I've put together a list of items to consider and discuss.  Hopefully this will empower you when you attend your next planning meeting.

I’m a special education coordinator at a college here in Sydney and also an advocate for inclusive education.  I thought I would write this post about getting it right in the Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting.  I see the IEP as a plan for the year ahead.  I like to use the Engineer/Architect analogy when describing my approach to the IEP process.  The Architect has the technical knowledge of the systems and the workers. He/ she will know what will work within the system.  Like all professions you can sometimes get ridged Architects (special Ed coordinators) who can only work through one model and you can find remarkable Architects who can create a harmony between the clients (parents, students and school) and the fruition of the plan.  Therefore I find I get the best results from parents who come to the table prepared with a clear set of goals and willingness to problem solve and discuss strategies. 

It is crucial that this plan is in place, especially in a secondary school where students may have up to nine teachers.  I find having to deal with so many teachers’ expectations, systems and styles causes considerable stress and issue for students with Autism.
I find most parents of students with autism are excellent advocates for their children and are an excellent resource for strategies.  For example they know exactly what the best blockers are for managing their child’s stress; they know exactly what things will trigger anxieties and what things will inspire their children.  In an ideal situation the conversations are open and look to coordinate the best possible strategies to support the student.  In some cases however parents come up against that ridged architect (Special Ed administrator) and the IEP process becomes a dictation of what the school has to offer.  Therefore here is a list of considerations you should raise within an IEP meeting to enable you to be a better advocate. 

-          What targets do we want to achieve this year? It is important that a set of targets or goals is developed.  This will enable you to measure progress even if it is very small.  A goal may be as simple as saying ‘good morning’ to the homeroom teacher to as complex as self-managing anxiety through a behaviour strategy. 

-          What support is going to be provided?  It is always important that the student has someone who they can use as a go to should they feel anxious.  Will there be in class support?  What classes are going to be supported and what classes are not?  When exploring support it is important the student be consulted.  Thrusting close support upon a student is not always the best approach.

-          What happens when things go wrong? What safety mechanisms are in place when issues arise?  Does the school have a quite ‘safe’ place for the student to go to during break times or when they cannot cope.  What happens when the student has a meltdown or refuses to come to school?  The plan is never set in stone and should always be open to change if things are not working.  

-          Who do I contact when things go wrong?  I find that in many cases students with autism will bottle up much anxiety and will wait until the get home to ‘explode’.  A call from a parent will sometimes be the only indication that something has gone wrong.  It is important the you have a school contact who is available and willing to listen.  A classic example I can think of is a call I had this year that averted a meltdown when a parent called to tell me her son had forgotten his apron for cooking.  I was able to catch the boy in the morning and give him one to borrow. 

-          How and what information is disseminated to teachers?  This is important as there is nothing worse than going to a parent teacher consultation to have teachers surprised that the student they had in their class had Asperger.  Thankfully this is rare but unfortunately I’ve known it to happen.  It is also important all teachers are using the same strategies and understand the student. 

-          What curriculum strategies are going to be put into place to support the student?  I have a problem at the moment with a number of the students with autism who also have an intellectual disability.  The students love coming to school and the parents are so happy with the placement as it is caring and supporting pastorally but academically it does not meet the needs of the student.  Whilst as a parent you will not be familiar with the curriculum it is important to ensure the curriculum sets high expectations and students are not left sitting at the back of the class. 

-          How are outside agencies incorporated into the program?  It is common for outside agencies such as psychologists, Occupational therapists, counsellors, Speech Therapists to be present at the meeting.  It is worthwhile exploring how these are connected to the school.  If the support is external it is worth ensuring the school has a relationship with the outside support to reinforce or support strategies. 

-          What other programs are going to be put in place:  social skills groups, anxiety management groups, travel training, school to work transition programs.  It is important that these are explored

I’m sure there are other points that are discussed but this is a good start.  As you can see the meeting can take some time especially if a number of teachers and specialists are involved.  I’ve only been on the teacher side of the table so I cannot speak for parents so any additional advice on what works would be a great resource.

I also write a blog called Australian Inclusive Education it seeks to explore research and strategies for promoting Inclusive Education.

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