It is one thing to create a beautifully detailed Individualized Education Program for a student needing special services. But the implementation is a whole different story.
Reflections from an IEP meeting
Each report is so important; each brings about its own set of
concerns and needs. Do they ever stop to realize just what a
complex and beautiful child you are? Do they realize how just the
very small act of saying a sentence, of sharpening your pencil, of
putting on your coat is a challenge for you? Do they realize how
much we have discovered and how much there is to learn?
I take it all in, and I am used to the terms, the language, and
the uniqueness of each set of results. I know how far you have come
and how far you need to go.
I sometimes want to close my eyes as they speak.
It is as if all 12 of them-including psychologist, social
worker, audiologist, speech therapist, OT, PT, nurse, teacher,
special needs teacher, caseworker, former school teacher-are all
saying the same thing at once: “What I believe Julia needs, what I
think she can do, what I think she needs help with …” and then
their answers all get tangled into special languages and even at
times they cannot agree among themselves.
Do they realize the impact of some of their statements? Do they
understand that, as a mother, each statement tears a little more at
the hole in my heart created when you were diagnosed?
I know they are doing their jobs, but sometimes I do not want
answers to questions I have not asked. I am not interested in an
opinion on how far you may go academically, I am not interested in
an opinion that you may never achieve any more goals
I see in you, my sweet and happy daughter, a child who really does
not seem to know any different because you approach your world with
tenacity, grace and a determination to be just like everyone else.
You have such compassion and empathy, you struggle to maintain
goals that are set upon you and you realize that you must work
harder, endure more and receive help more than most of your
I challenge anyone who works with you to see you as
disadvantaged. You create new ways, produce new ideas and those who
provide for you are amazed at your abilities, at your willingness,
at your character, your charm and warm soft heart.
Do they listen at these IEP meetings? And if so, what are they
hearing? I hope they hear the work of a special little girl who was
sent from heaven to humble us. I hope they hear the tones of
laughter coming from your beautiful smile, your squeals of joy when
you finally understand and your unconditional love.
I hope they hear a voice in their hearts that says she is just
perfect the way she is.
-by Tammy Novak
Chicago special education students do not always receive appropriate services outlined in IEPs, and experts say informed parents can make sure that doesn’t happen to their child.
With annual reviews often scheduled in the spring, Mary Mulae, a special education litigation attorney with Children’s Law Group in Chicago and parent of a child with learning disabilities, weighs in on the issue.
What are the IEP basics parents should know?
They need to view it as the blueprint for their child’s education. It identifies where their child is at academically, functionally and socially. Deficits are defined in the plan, and it maps out how to make meaningful progress by breaking things down into annual goals.
The key is to make sure those goals are measurable and benchmarks are set to check progress throughout the year. I see IEPs all the time, no kidding, with goals like “Frankie will improve his reading.” Make sure the goals set are measurable.
What do you find should happen in meetings yet often does not?
I rarely go to a meeting where the discussed progress of the child is actually meaningful progress. When parents look at a child’s grades and know that they can’t read and are struggling with their homework, you have to start saying, “I don’t agree with these goals.” At the annual IEP meetings, concerns need to be brought up to make sure the plan for next year is meaningful.
How can parents prepare for the annual IEP review meetings?
They need to review IEP progress reports, which should have been received throughout the year. Look at them carefully and compare to IEPs from the year before. Parents should think about what they want to see included in the IEP for the next year.
It’s critical for these kids that parents have the big picture in their heads: If you see your child in college, how are they going to get there? What skills are they going to need? Make sure those skills are included in the IEP as early as possible.
Parents shouldn’t just sit and take what the schools say. They should be able to feel strong about bringing up things like friendship and bullying. The federal special education laws are focused not only on academics but also ensuring that the child is able to function as an adult.
What should parents check for before they sign the pile of IEP paperwork?
I’ve found some Chicago IEP forms that have a little box on the front that says I agree or I don’t agree, and they have been pre-checked I agree. So parents have to make sure they check for things like that. If you do not like the goals or measures in the IEP, make sure you write that down somewhere in the paperwork.
One thing that needs to definitely be discussed and is often not, is ESY (Extended School Year). The box for that is also checked no. ESY is for a child who might regress if they do not keep up with skills. Take a copy with you when you leave. Often schools will say they will send a clean copy later; you have the absolute right to leave that day with that form.
For parents who do not have a child with an IEP, what are some signs that a child may need those services?
When my son was 3, I noticed that he had speech and development delays that did not necessarily scream special education, but I was still concerned. I noticed he wasn’t talking or playing like his peers, so we had him evaluated and discovered that he did, in fact, need individualized services.
As a parent, you shouldn’t wait. If you have a hunch that something is wrong, you are probably right. It’s not just the earlier identified the better, it’s something you must get going right away. Get feedback from your child’s teachers; ask their thoughts on specialized instruction.