Earlier this month I wrote about a class/seminar I took about transitioning your special needs toddler to Preschool. I also went into detail about what that means for us. Well, that same day, I also attended a class about IEP (Individualized Education Plan) Basics. So, here's what I learned in that class...
An Individualized Education Plan is a legal document drawn up by parents and teachers of a special needs child and basically outlines the things that this child needs, that are outside the usual educational day, in order to progress in their learning (I made that definition up myself, are you proud?). The law requires that each child in the special education program receive the support they need. Therefore an IEP is a very important tool for your special needs child and something, as a parent, you should be very involved in.
As a teacher, I am familiar with IEPs. However, I am not a special education teacher, so I don't know the ins and outs of putting together an IEP. I have been to a number of IEP meetings, and sadly, parents don't always show up. I will NOT be that parent.
Remember when I talked about the timeline in my transition post? I mentioned that after we hold our transition meeting, the school district has 60 days to then schedule an MET. MET stands for Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team. Within those 60 days they are supposed to review existing data about Sadie's special needs/disability, do any tests that may need to be done to establish her learning or physical abilities, and come up with a report that describes what she knows and what she can do developmentally and functionally. They are also required to establish eligibility for special education at this meeting. Out of the 11 qualifying disability classifications for special education, Sadie is eligible in 6 areas (traumatic brain injury, speech and language impairment, orthopedic impairment, visual impairment, multiple disabilities, and intellectual disability). This is the meeting we are going to try to move up because of the baby's due date, if you remember.
After we have the MET, the school district has another 30 days to schedule and hold her IEP meeting. This meeting should include a general education teacher, a special education teacher, a school psychologist, and an administrator, in addition to Sadie and us. we also plan to include an outside person (a special education teacher who I work with and trust) to attend with us to make sure we are receiving fair services. The IEP meeting is different than the MET, which only requires the school psychologist and possibly a special education teacher in attendance.
An IEP will include a PLAAFP (present levels of academic achievement and functional performance), goals written measurably, accommodations or modifications to the curriculum or environment to provide for Sadie's optimal learning opportunity, related services, placement, and transition.
The PLAAFP includes Sadie's strengths and educational needs, what helps her learn, what limits or interferes with her learning, objective data from current evaluations, and how her disability afects her ability to be involved and progress in the general curriculum. The PLAAFP is usually what I'm involved in as a general education teacher when I go to IEP meetings.
Sadie's goals in her IEP need to be written so that they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-limited. And example of this might be "After one year of specialized instruction, Megan will be able to decode words at the 25th percentile level as measured by the decoding score of the Gray Oral Reading Test."
Accommodations change HOW Sadie will demonstrate learning or proficiency. In other words, she may still learn to count to 10 or be required to know her alphabet, however, because she doesn't speak, the way she shows that she knows this information may be different. She won't be required to recite her ABCs or to write her name, but she may still be required to show that she has learned this information in a different way.
A Modification changes WHAT Sadie is expected to learn and/or demonstrate. This is where Sadie may not be expected to be learning 2nd grade material when she's in 2nd grade, because she may not have shown yet that she's learned 1st grade material. And it's not fair to move her on until she can do the 1st grade stuff. So, while other kids might be learning double-digit addition, Sadie might still be learning single-digit addition. Therefore, her curriculum is modified.
The related services that will probably be written into Sadie's IEP will include therapies, and tube feeding, as well as some sort of adaptive PE to make sure she can still participate and get her physical education. It will be important that I make sure Sadie is receiving these services each week, because this stuff can sometimes get overlooked. It's also important that I make sure there is a plan in place in case of a school emergency in order to keep Sadie safe.
Another thing that will be decided at an IEP meeting is placement. Ideally, a child in special education should be placed in the least restrictive environment. This means that if they can be placed in a general education classroom, they will be. This is where my decision to keep Sadie in the school district for preschool (this decision isn't set in stone or finalized in any way yet) is important. Our school district practices a special education model called "inclusion" in preschool, which means that there are both special needs children and typical children together in the classroom.
I feel much more prepared for Sadie's IEP meeting having gone to this class. I feel like I am ready to work with her educational team to provide for Sadie what she needs and I am really excited to see her learn and grow and progress!!
I will be updating you as we attend each of these meetings in the transition process, but for now, while we're still preparing, I want to know what you think, what you've experienced, what advice you'd offer as we get ready to team up with the school for Sadie IEP???