Closing the Gap: Understanding Individualized Education for Your Child

Closing the Gap: Understanding Individualized Education for Your Child

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There’s no such thing as a one size fits all education, and many kids require modifications to the general curriculum to have success in school. Students with disabilities have protection under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which states that all school districts are required to provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to every pupil in its jurisdiction, regardless of their special needs.

The 2004 updated version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) help educators design personalized programs incorporating specialized instruction so each child progresses and achieves his or her own particular set of goals.

According to the Ohio Department of Education, IDEA broadly defines a person with a disability as “any person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities or has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.”

Your local school’s evaluation team and the parent or guardian will determine if your child qualifies for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) by reviewing test scores, academic records, and developmental and functional details. Although a medical diagnosis, depending on type of special needs, is not explicitly required, it is a tool you can use in advocating for your child.

Ellen Benson, a mom in Northeast Ohio, says growing up with ADD, dyslexia and challenges in math helped her identify the same learning disabilities in her daughter as a preschooler. Benson’s daughter was diagnosed at University Hospitals and was later approved for an IEP in the fifth grade.

“Keep fighting for what you believe your kids need,” she says.

Establishing an IEP

Meetings with the school to develop a child’s IEP can be conducted as early as age 3 or anytime within 30 days of determining a need for special education, and when starting each school year. After an IEP is developed, it’s implemented as soon as possible.

“It’s best to be proactive as soon as you identify a (need),” advises Krista Tracy, a math and science educator in the Maple Heights school district. “Even in the best case scenario, arranging tests and scheduling meetings takes a while.”

IEP Team Members

At minimum, the IEP team will include the child’s parents; if applicable, at least one of the child’s regular education teachers, intervention specialists and/or special education providers; and a qualified representative of the school district.

Additional team members can include someone who interprets evaluation results for making instructional recommendations and other individuals who have special expertise or knowledge about the child. Assembling your own panel of experts can be helpful, especially if you’re being met with resistance at school.

Parents’ Role in the IEP Process

As a parent, you have an integral role in guiding the vision statement to establish an IEP that delivers the most appropriate educational program in the least restrictive environment. Collaborating with the IEP team, you can help define your child’s educational goals and objectives. Before giving your approval, you can express concerns and provide relevant input about your child’s interests, level of functioning at home and in the community, medical concerns and any instructional strategies or behavioral supports that have been successful for your child.

Tracy was equipped with information and professional experience when navigating the IEP process with her preschooler.

“Inform yourself about the law and what’s available,” she says. “Go to all the meetings, or you’ll be left out of the decision-making process. Don’t be ashamed or intimidated about being an advocate for your child. If you know they need something in particular, insist on it. If necessary, get an outside opinion or diagnosis.”

Making Changes to the IEP

You may request a meeting in writing at any time to review and revise plans. A lack of progress in goals is a common reason for changing an IEP.

According to Tanya Holztrager, an intervention specialist for Revere Local Schools in Richfield, “An IEP report card will be issued every time progress or report cards are issued — usually every five to nine weeks, depending on the grading periods — or more often if parents ask for it.”

The plan is never cast in stone and revisions may be necessary as your child’s situation changes.

For more information, visit education.ohio.gov for “Whose IDEA Is This?” A Parent’s Guide to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004

12 Tips from Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Collin A. Myers, Ph.D.

Preparing for Your Meeting

1 Familiarize yourself with the law.

2 Make notes about your child and his needs.

3 Review your child’s academic and medical records and bring all outside reports from other professionals who work with your child.

4 Request that draft IEPs be given to you at least one week in advance.

Attending the Meeting

1 Always bring a witness (spouse, friend, advocate) and record meetings.

2 Ask for clarification when you don’t understand the meaning of terms used.

3 Sign nothing if you are unsure or disagree. If in doubt, postpone signing until you can get another professional to review the IEP.

4 Put concerns in writing and copy them to the superintendent, school psychologist and teachers — both regular and special ed.

Monitoring Progress

1 Insist upon a communication system to ensure the IEP is being implemented successfully.

2 Tell the team how you will support the plan at home.

3 Focus on the three or four most important, measurable goals.

4 Set a time frame for objectives and gauge progress comparing your child’s present level of performance to her most recent assessment.

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