Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What the IEP Gives You: Services and Transitions

Article first published as What the IEP Gives You: Services and Transitions on Technorati.

Child with autism panning for "gold" in an artificial stream.
So to date we have covered the IEP and what to do when you get one assigned. But what happens once you get it? What does the IEP give you?

Well, first and foremost, the IEP gives you the ability to develop your child's educational program (until 18, but we will talk about that). But it also gives you access to related services. Let's first talk about the related services, because they often determine where you would like your child to be, and which classroom setup should be made available for your child.

Related services are services that are not directly involved in your child's education, but are required in order to supply an environment that is best dedicated to your child's education. These include developmental, corrective, and supportive services as well as transportation to and from class.

  1. Speech and Language Pathology and Audiology: If necessary you can get a speech and language specialist to help guide your child through their education by developing their language skills. This is pretty common with non verbal and semi-verbal children with Autism.
  2. Psychological services: if your child requires counseling or any type of psychological support, the IEP allows for that support to be provided. Not often required for children on the Spectrum, it may be necessary for any child who has had a tramatic event in their life and it gets in the way of their education.
  3. Interpreting Services: For those children who need an interpreter, generally for those who are deaf, one can be provided. This may also be an aspect of your child's language services, if your child's therapist determines sign language is the best way for them to communicate.
  4. Physical and Occupational Therapy: Very common with children on the Spectrum, these therapies are designed to help them perform common tasks. But they can also be used to find ways to calm a child down when they feel too stressed and are unwilling or unable to attend to the learning task at hand.
  5. Recreation: Every child needs to blow off steam when stressed, just like the rest of us. Recreation, and even therapeutic recreation is an essential part of the child's daily routine. That should be provided for your child's educational success.
  6. Social Work Services: Again not very common with children on the Spectrum, but if a social worker is necessary, those services are available.
  7. School Nurse Services: If your child has other health problems, a school nurse may be necessary. The IEP will outline those requirements and require the school to have a nurse on staff.
  8. Counseling Services: Great for those who need them, including rehabilitation services.
  9. Orientation and Mobility Services: Sometimes it's necessary to require ramps or other mobility aides be available for your child.
  10. Medical Services: Sometimes just a nurse on campus isn't enough: your child may need full diagnostic or evaluation services for their medical condition. The IEP will outline those requirements to the District and School, and provide you with a way to address the issues.

All these services are provided when needed, and that need is determined by the IEP team. If you as a parent feel that your child has a specific need, address it with the team. If you as a team agree it needs to be fulfilled, it will then be the team's responsibility to see it done. If you don't agree, have some evidence or reasoning to back up your need. Keep in mind that while you are the parent, your child will likely act differently in class than at home, and teachers will only see what your child does in class.

Okay, so you have your requirements, and the class is going swimmingly. You have a regular communication schedule set up with your child's teacher, and you get updates. You or your teacher finds that a change is necessary in your child's IEP in order to increase the child's performance: what do you do? You will, as a team, meet to discuss your child's progress and evaluate any changes you may need to make to the IEP. Some teachers are great at this, others are not. Our son's teacher if fantastic at keeping up with his IEP, and will even send us a copy a couple weeks in advance of a meeting so we have time to review it.

Okay, so now it's at the end of the year, and your child is moving up to the next grade level. Normally this isn't a problem, as most "registration" happens in the late fall, and most children just get assigned a new teacher. But for your child on an IEP, this can be scary. I remember wondering what was going to happen once my child moved from Preschool to Kindergarten, and then to 1st Grade. It was scary, and if it wasn't for the IEP meetings, I would have been panicking come the end of August.

Every transition period will have an IEP that focuses on five essential goals:
1. Training: What can your child do, and what can he not do? What type of class will he need to attend when it comes to the next grade, and will the staff be available to meet his need?
2. Education: How is your child performing in school, and at what grade level? Again, this is where having a general education advisor is handy!

3. Employment: At some point, what employment skills does your child have? This ties in to later-life occupational therapy. Currently I don't have to worry about that too much, but I still do (and my son is only 7).
4. Independent Living Skills: This is a critical skillset that we as parents need to give our children. My goal in life, actually, is to have both my children living indepentently when they graduate, and be able to function. I would like them to have jobs that will let them live on their own, contribute to society, and have them be productive. These are taken into consideration as part of the occupational and physical therapy sessions.
5. Transition Services: If your child is moving from one classroom to another, such as my son did when he moved from Kindergarten to 1st Grade, then you need to have a plan in place. The goal is to mainstream your child so that services are no longer necessary, and often that can mean transition services. These include evaluating what services are necessary to move from one classroom level to another, or what skills have been met that will allow a child to move from one classroom to another.

For instance, when our son went from Kindergarten to 1st Grade, his teacher, though she wanted him to stay in her class another year, felt his needs would be better served in a more advanced class that would cater to his academic achievements. So, instead of staying in the same class for another two years, he got moved into a more advanced class. It was stressful for him at first because of the change, but in the end was the best thing for him.

One last thing to say on transitions: age. Once your child has reached the age of 18, that child is now considered an adult and can refuse an adult's presence at their IEP team meetings. A way to guarantee that you as a guardian can continue to attend would be to obtain guardianship of your child. This might sound rediculous, but keep in mind that schools need to comply with the law, and the law does not treat adults with Autism any different than adults without Autism.

When your child is about to reach that age of maturity, you should receive a letter (about a year in advance) to notify you and your child of that responsibility, and what is expected of them.

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