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Monday, May 7, 2012

Assessments, IEPs, Special Education Services... Oh My!

This is an overview of transitioning your special needs child from Early Intervention to Special Education Services.

Under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), a federal law concerning the education of students with disabilities, qualifying children are entitled to early intervention services before the age of 3, and public school services from 3-21 years old. For those delayed in multiple areas, there is a battery of tests performed, including a multi-discipline panel of therapists, psychologists, and specialists, leading up to a child's 3rd birthday. IDEA and your rights under this law are incredibly important to parents with children that have any type of delay or behavioral issue. The purpose of all of this is to provide as much early intervention as possible. Just google early intervention and you will find tons of resources that point to the long-term cost-effectiveness and success by providing these services.  So, if your child qualifies for them, please take advantage of what is available to help your child succeed in life!

Child Find
Child Find is a component of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that requires states to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities age 3-21 years old. Before your child's 3rd birthday, contact your local school district and request a Child Find screening to determine if your child is eligible for Special Education Services. Children will be assessed in these areas:
  • Developmental (self-help/daily-living, motor, cognition, social/emotional, orthopedic)
  • Speech/Language (communication)
  • Hearing
  • Vision
Depending on the area and level of delay, the next step may be additional assessment/testing.

In our school district, the next assessment phase is called Arena Testing. This is where a long list of tests take place with your child by a room full of important-sounding people. It can be intimidating being in a room full of people with fancy titles, advanced degrees, and ideas about what your child can/can't do. This coupled with the fact that your child will NOT "perform" as you hope because of being thrown in an unfamiliar environment with tons of new faces and sights and sounds. And the more significantly delayed your child is, the longer this appointment lasts! I think ours was 2 hours long.
We also experienced a home visit for additional data collection, and had the opportunity to have vision and hearing screens done (but we had already had these tests done independently and submitted the reports for consideration). We also had to provide record access to several different doctors and therapists. Much information goes into the prep work prior to the IEP meeting.

Individualized Education Program
An IEP is the Individualized Education Program that defines the special education services (SES) you will receive from a public school district. It is a required document if your child is to receive SES. It is truly individualized for each student, and contains information required by law such as performance, annual goals, special education and related services, accommodations, participation in state and district tests, needed transition services, and measured progress.
Typically the parents go into the IEP meeting and the IEP team will already have a draft IEP available. The team, very similar to the assessment team, will go over the child's goals, requirements, etc. This can also be an intimidating meeting for an unprepared parent. Remember that you do not have to leave the meeting signing anything and you can take the proposed IEP home to review before signing it.
The best preparation for an IEP meeting is any of the Wright Law books on IEPs (One good book: All About IEPs) AND input from parents who have already been through the process and have similar disabilities to your child. Wrights Law website has excellent resources, and Exceptional Parents also has a great resource packet.

Rebekah's IEP Overview
This is a real high level look at the kind of goals we chose for Rebekah's IEP. Each goal has a list of sub-tasks that include many different 'mini-goals', but these are the ones that she will be measured against to determine "success". If Rebekah manages these goals before the end of the 2012-13 school year, we will be able to adjust her IEP. Moderate assist, in the context of creating measurable goals, means that the student does 50-75% of the work.
  1. Put toy in container 2 out of 5 tries with moderate assist. (OT goal)
  2. Transition from floor to sit position 2 out of 5 tries with moderate assist. (PT goal)
  3. Participate/respond in back-and-forth communication using facial, verbal, body cues and/or augmentative communication device. (ST goal)
  4. When Rebekah's name is called, she will respond by turning her head towards the source and vocalizing in response 1 out of 3 tries. (Classroom goal)
  5. When given a toothbrush, Rebekah will grasp it and bring it to her mouth 3 out of 5 tries with moderate assist. (Adaptive Skills goal)
  6. Given a choice between 2 pictures, Rebekah will identify herself in 2 out of 3 tries. (Vision goal)
  7. When given a choice between 2 things (whether activities, toys, etc), Rebekah will indicate a preference in 3 out of 5 tries using eye gaze, vocalization, or touch. (Social Behavior goal)
  8. Rebekah will engage in reciprocal play / turn-taking tasks (such as rolling a ball) in 4 out of 5 tries. (Mommy's goal)
Some great resources for IEP planning (and general disability law): 
  • Wrights Law is the best resource for everything you want to know about Disability Law - from advocacy to education/IEPs to rights as a parent. Their books are excellent resources and you can learn so much about many of the key laws (like IDEA, No Child Left Behind, FERPA, Section 504 & ADA, etc). If you have a special needs child and you don't recognize these laws, you need to go to Wright's Law and do your homework!
  • Partner's in Policymaking is a national program that teaches parents and self-advocates the power of advocacy to change the way people with disabilities are supported, viewed, taught, live and work.  There are hours and hours of free online training available, and many states offer group training on the curriculum with a state-specific focus.
  • Exceptional Parents Unlimited is an excellent resource for a parent facing extraordinary medical, developmental, or parenting challenges. 

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