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The Path For Autistic Kids Aging Out of the School System: Severely Autistic Especially At Risk for Warehousing   

May 3, 2015 in Featured, Special Education Advisor Blog by Jess

A recent NBC  Dateline episode, “On The Brink” which aired April 12, 2015, highlighted a dire situation facing many autistic young adults and their families.  It stated that within the next two years approximately 500,000 autistic teenagers will become ineligible for a free public education because they will have reached the age of 21.  The unofficial term for this is “ aging out” of the system.  This will result in an influx of adults with significant functional limitations into the mainstream, with few educational, vocational and social resources available to them.  In addition to the financial stress that will be put on state and federal social services, the expense to individual families responsible for the care and well being of these autistic young adults will be overwhelming, and in some cases impossible to manage. The result is clear:  the inhumane neglect of the educational potential of these young people, who by age 21 are not miraculously ready to have their academic  education terminated, and replaced with only vocational tasks they may or may not enjoy, feel proud of or challenged by.

Federal law states by the age of 16 students with developmental disabilities are supposed to have Individualized Transition Plans (ITP) in place as part of their Individualized Educational Plan  (IEP).  The ITP is supposed to serve as a template for formation of a plan to identify skills and capacities that need to be developed, in order to prepare the young adult with disabilities to leave high school and be  successful in an environment outside of the educational system.  These settings would include vocational training programs, social settings, and employment settings.  This plan in theory seems to be a good one:  start 5 years before formal state education is terminated and prepare the student (to whatever degree possible, given the particulars of their disability) to enter a setting for adults with developmental disabilities.  However, there are flaws with how this theory of post secondary programming for the developmentally disable is executed.

Flaw #1:  The ITP  Itself

The ITP is supposed to be specific in identifying and highlighting job related skills which need to be worked on.  It is supposed to have measurable goals, with time frames for those goals to be achieved.  It should include strategies for success aimed at creating growth and change in the functionality of the student.  If it is to be useful, it cannot be generic, use boilerplate phrases that allow for boxes to be checked off, and lacking a plan with therapeutic measures in place.  These components are essential   to making sure precious time is not wasted on helping these students attain personal growth, which will lead to success in  future diverse settings.

The current form of the commonly used ITP ignores the cognitive and educational skills of the student, almost as if the student has been written off by age 21-22 as not needing to add to their academic base of knowledge.  This mindset of the current form, therefore, relegates these young adults to “doing” tasks, usually at lower level jobs.  There is nothing wrong with those  jobs, and  nothing wrong with some students being placed in those jobs.  However, is it fair to decide at a certain age that the more significantly affected individuals have reached their academic potential, and that we will absolutely define how they will spend their future?

With the passing of the Self Determination Legislation there is a new and much needed respectful mindset toward the issues facing the developmentally disabled and their families.  However, it is not directly useful to the disabled who have limited speech, cognitive impairment and sensory motor issues.  Those individuals cannot advocate for themselves, and even with strong parental advocacy,  without the commitment of secondary educational institutions, adult day settings, or vocational settings  to teach functional academics, they will not be able to reach their potential for job or social success.

Flaw #2:  Secondary Educational Mindsets, Attitudes, and Curriculum Content

As a parent of a twenty-year old son with severe autism, and as a professional in the field, it has been painful and frustrating to navigate the rigid mindsets and politics of a large school system.  Once I made sure that I became educated and accomplished in the field as a writer, lecturer and practitioner, I became an advocate for my son which caused much resistance and insecurities with certain schools, from the administration down to the teachers.  I came from a mindset of being an expert on my son’s type of autism, and provided high level information, resources, and personal time to assist in creating a curriculum that reflected who my son was and is, and what he needed to get to that next level of his functional capacity.  I thought this would be of help and welcomed.  However, I have been met with resistance over the years.  The main challenge has been to insure that my son’s abilities were maximized, and that his disabilities were well understood, and that effective interventions were used.

The major problem has been one of attitude, expressed directly or indirectly as an overly sensitive reaction by staff, either feeling not appreciated or minimized.  That has resulted from the advocacy of educated, involved parents who want the collaborative model to go beyond merely meeting as a team,  and instead to also allow for parental input aimed at directing components of their child’s program where clearly indicated, or aimed at striving for a direction which should have been whole-heartedly tried to test its efficacy.

The curriculum issue of most concern is the practice of teaching children with moderate to severe cognitive disability information that is not understandable, meaningful, or useful to them. It is fine to share general information about history, literature or science.  However, for the significantly developmentally disabled student, much of that information will not appropriately further functionality.     By contrast, improving their ability to spell, read, and practice simple math will improve the comprehension of more complex interactions, and expectations, they will encounter.  Academic skills are a huge part of being  successful in a variety of vocational and social settings outside the traditional classroom setting.  To leave academics out of the ITP, and out of programs working with these individuals, is a blatant misunderstanding of what a comprehensive program needs to be.

Relatedly, the goal of supporting brain development, and moving up the developmental ladder, should be an ongoing priority for programs working with the developmentally disabled.  The human brain has plasticity, so potential for learning and advances in all domains of functioning is possible for this population.  The brain continues to develop to its full capacity up to the age of 26-28, so it  makes no sense to terminate academic learning for any kid, typical or non-typical before that age.  For the developmentally disabled, autistic population, it makes even less sense than with neuro-typical kids.

Solutions and Hope

Professionals working with transition young adults and formulating their ITP’s should expand the format to include a section that addresses the continued need for functional academics which could improve job performance, skill acquisition and appropriate social interactions in the workplace.  Programs working with this post secondary educational population need to provide some attention for the kind of reading, writing, spelling and math that will be necessary in  workplace and social settings.  They need to provide professional educators who can identify a person’s academic skill set, and build on it with certain jobs/careers in mind.  For the more profoundly affected individual, supports should be built into programs to help improve communication skills which will further support a sense of connection to the work settings and other people.

Regional Centers also need to recognize the need for a continued academic educational component for special needs programs they vendor.  Parents need to play a consistent role in  continuing the focus on functional academics in the home and in the community.  Parents should periodically obtain clinical and educational assessments, and provide those to adult placement centers to increase the effectiveness of those programs which in turn provide services and opportunities for their son or daughter.

There is and continues to be power in learning, and people challenged with cognitive difficulties should be reminded in an ongoing fashion they have the ability to learn, grow and accomplish goals that have meaning for them.  No matter how limited an individual's communication skills, attempts must be made in school and in post-secondary vocational programs to read the verbal and non verbal signs that person is sending in their attempt to be heard and understood.


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Peer-Reviewed Research & Research Based Instruction

August 22, 2014 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Doug Goldberg

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when reauthorized in 2004 introduced the concept of Research Based Instruction. This was done in order to align the regulations with the No Child Left Behind Act and to hold Schools more accountable for the lack of progress children with disabilities were making in their classrooms.

Congress, in their findings, determined, “the implementation of this title (IDEA) has been impeded by low expectations, and an insufficient focus on applying replicable research on proven methods of teaching and learning for children with disabilities.” Read the rest of this entry →

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Educational placements from Least Restrictive to Most Restrictive

August 21, 2014 in Special Education Articles by Dennise Goldberg

Least Restrictive Environment is defined as “In General.  To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” 20 U.S.C § 1412(a)(5)(A).  Below is list of educational placements from least restrictive to most restrictive: Read the rest of this entry →

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What is compensatory education?

August 19, 2014 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Doug Goldberg

What is it?

Compensatory education is generally defined as a remedy owed to children with a disability who have been denied, a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Compensatory education may include summer services, additional therapy hours, or other measures that make the student whole for past violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by the School District. Compensatory education is intended to be a onetime offer to compensate for past denial of FAPE and doesn’t relieve the School District of providing FAPE on a go forward basis. Thus, compensatory education should be in addition to the necessary services to provide the child FAPE in the current or future Individualized Education Programs (IEP). Read the rest of this entry →

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Learning Basic Life Skills in High School

August 17, 2014 in Special Education Articles by Jess

What should families expect their children to learn in a life skills class at the high school level? A simple question; however, I think many schools seem to struggle with providing valuable life skills lessons. Our students age out at 22 years old, which means the state is no longer responsible with providing the students services through public schools. When students attain that age and leave our system, it is incredibly important for them and their family that the student has learned coping skills to assist them to become more independent in their life. Read the rest of this entry →

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Understanding the Importance of IEP Goals and Objectives

July 7, 2014 in Special Education Articles by Jess

The Goals and Objectives section of the IEP is the”meat” of the IEP. Goals and objectives should be directly linked to the child’s educational needs. Special educators determine what a child’s education needs are through formal and informal assessments, through observations of the child’s behaviors and social interactions, through parent feedback, through work products the child creates and through evaluating the child’s level of success with different teaching interventions. The goals and objectives are the specific skills the child is going to learn during the course of the IEP, which is usually one year. Read the rest of this entry →

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Strong Advocacy & Positive School Relationships are not Mutually Exclusive

July 5, 2014 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Doug Goldberg

I don’t understand why every time we post an article on Special Education Advisor regarding advocacy or relationships with your child’s school we always get the same type of comments. If the article is discussing how to collaborate with your school or create a positive relationship I receive comments about how utilizing this philosophy would put you in a weak position. On the other hand, every time we post an article about being a strong advocate for your child we get comments about how this is counterproductive to the collaborative nature of the IEP Meeting. Since when did we start living in a universe where you can’t have a positive relationship with your child’s school and be a strong advocate for their needs? You absolutely can do both, but it requires finesse. Before we talk about how to do this I want you to see two of these comments we have received. On the article Top Ten Methods to Foster IEP Team Collaboration we received this comment: Read the rest of this entry →

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Dyslexia: ‘I’ve never taught a student with dyslexia.’

May 21, 2014 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Have you ever asked yourself what your local school teachers know about dyslexia? What have they learned on their own? What professional development have they been exposed to since they finished their teacher training programs? Have you ever wondered what they know to be an intervention for dyslexia? I recently read a thread on a Facebook page dedicated to teachers when the topic of dyslexia was posed to 75,000+ teachers. How they responded was not completely unexpected, but it was unnerving.

Before I go on, let me assure you that I love teachers. There are many, many teachers in my life. We have five teachers who work for us as reading therapists and I think they are all intelligent, empathetic, creative and passionate people. So, this article is not a bashing of teachers, instead the purpose is to shed light on what they have been taught, or not taught, to do for children with dyslexia. Read the rest of this entry →

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Why Free Doesn’t Really Apply to FAPE

May 20, 2014 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Doug Goldberg

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) is a myth!  Generally[1] speaking, if your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) they are either receiving a Free Public Education or an Appropriate Public Education but not both.  The term FAPE means special education and related services that:

  1. have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge;
  2. meet the standards of the State educational agency;
  3. include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved; and
  4. are provided in conformity with the IEP required under Section 1414(d) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Read the rest of this entry →
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When a Child’s Disability becomes the “Elephant in the Room”

May 18, 2014 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Dennise Goldberg

The phrase “Elephant in the Room” has been a part of the English language for a very long time; I’m sure as adults we’ve all used it in conversation at one time or another.  Wikipedia defines it as “is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed.”  The two words that I think stand out the most in the definition are “ignored” and “unaddressed.”  Let’s now apply this definition to children with disabilities; the “Elephant in the Room” in many schools or households is a child with a disability.  There are many reasons why a child’s disability may be ignored or not addressed.  Read the rest of this entry →

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