This article appears in our January 2016 issue of Indy’s Child Parenting Magazine. Flip through it here or pick up a copy today at your local Marsh or Kroger store, YMCA, public library or community center.
If you are a parent of a student with special needs, you know how the IEP acts as the blueprint for the support your child receives in school. The IEP is often cited as a “living document” that should change as a child moves through the educational system. How does this happen as a student transitions out of elementary school?
Jeff Naas, a special education teacher and Department Chair for Clay Middle School says, “The overall look and purpose of the IEP remains intact throughout a student’s schooling, starting with present levels identifying areas of need, which lead to goals and services to help the student meet these needs. The main difference usually comes in the delivery of services as students move from the elementary model of one teacher/classroom to the middle school model of multiple teachers/classrooms and meeting the students’ needs in each of the different classes.”
Wilner Pope-Cusic, a Program Specialist for IN*Source, a leading non-profit organization dedicated to providing support for families and children with disabilities, also states that a child’s IEP does not normally change. But, she stresses that within a student’s new environment, “Parents and educators need to make sure the IEP is written in a way that all teachers involved are seeing the IEP and implementing it.”
So, what will change for a child with an IEP?
Social goals may look different for a child with a disability in his or her new middle school setting. Dr. Kharon Grimmet, Clinical Assistant Professor of Special Education in the Department of Educational Studies for Purdue University, says, “Social opportunities will be in different settings, and we are looking to expand skills worked on in elementary and generalize them across trainers and settings to allow kids to apply those skills within different settings and different groups.”
As a student moves toward graduation, making a successful transition to whatever path they choose after high school becomes a major goal of the IEP.
Lindsay Doherty, a Special Education Teacher and Department Head for Creekside Middle School, explains that “The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004, requires that IEPs include transition-related goals and statements in order to assist the students in preparing for life after high school.” In this transition phase, post-secondary goals are established, which include training, education, employment and independent living skills if appropriate.
Dr. Grimmet adds, “We intentionally start planning for this young person to become an adult.” Middle school students, and even younger students, are encouraged to understand their strengths and weaknesses, and how to advocate for themselves.
Getting involved in the process
“Parental involvement and collaboration is essential in all educational, emotional and behavioral areas of students,” says Doherty. When parents and educators openly communicate, they can collaboratively identify where a student’s skills are lacking and work together to implement solutions.
It is critical that parents obtain and understand their child’s IEP. Pope-Cusic advises parents to get a copy of their student’s IEP and to know their child’s teacher of record, subject teachers and his or her daily schedule. She also suggests parents meet with their child’s teacher every 3-4 weeks in order to communicate any concerns. As Naas says, “Parents should not be afraid to ask for clarification on anything they are confused about during the process.”
“Educators have to help parents feel secure,” says Dr. Grimmet. She encourages schools and teachers to really get to know the families, and advises parents to inform teachers about anything at home that may be relevant to understanding their child. “Whatever we do, the biggest caution would be working on anything in isolation.”
Lauren Lawson is a freelance writer passionate about all things parent-related. A transplant from Buffalo, New York, she now happily resides in the Cincinnati area with her husband and two young boys.
Watch for more of Lauren’s work in upcoming issues of Indy’s Child Parenting, Cincinnati Parent and Dayton Parent Magazines.