IDEA for Your Child's Future
Advocating for Special Education Needs, Part 2
by Nancy Jennings
In Part 1 of this series we discussed P.L. 94-142, the Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including an Individual Education Plan (IEP). In Part 2, we will explore how to create a collaborative team -- from the school and teacher's perspective -- in order to better understand and utilize the IEP process. Information for Part 2 is excerpted with permission from the Inclusion homepage1.
CREATING A COLLABORATIVE TEAM
A collaborative team is a group of people with varied abilities who share your purpose in the education of a student with challenges. Try to have your team set up before the beginning of the school year.
The first team meeting should determine the direction of the education program for your student, and outline the tasks of the team members.
The team is comprised of:
Core team members can expect to meet three or four times per year.
The first meeting of the collaborative team usually occurs just before, or in the first few weeks of, the new school year. You may need to hear an update from the family or student on their summer vacation, any recent illness, and abilities and skills that have improved. Discuss any factor that may affect performance in class in the coming year.
The team may also want to update student goals or review previous learning experiences. Team members may consider ways to gather new resources for both the teacher and the student. Perhaps a tape recorder, CD-ROM or a laptop computer would help in the classroom. Perhaps a tape recorder, CD-ROM or a laptop computer would help in the classroom.
Also, the team may want to review social goals for the student, and determine how to facilitate any new experiences that will take place.
The team will help develop the goals and direction of the student's individualized education program (IEP).
How The Team Can Help
The collaborative team can help in a number of ways.
You will usually find one or two team members who can share what they have learned in a previous experience with inclusion.
Family and Community Role
Most parents will want hands-on contact with all of the planning for their child's education. The process of inclusion can be overwhelming for parents, and they may require assistance from other families who have experience in working with schools.
You will be able to find people in the community who can help your team members with their tasks.
Making Time for Meetings
Plan ahead for a successful meeting. Establish priorities and set an agenda well in advance.
Allocate two hours for meetings that will involve in-depth discussion of the student's educational plan. When you have everyone together it may not be necessary to use the full time that you have planned, but be prepared to be focused, and to accomplish whatever you need to within that time frame.
If you don't have time for a long meeting and yet have items to discuss with the parent, another teacher, or the teacher assistant, then meet for fifteen minutes during the day, after school, or on the phone. If two or three people can meet in short time-frames to discuss various needs, do it. However, you do have an obligation to make sure that everyone on the core team is aware of what has been discussed.
Lunch hours are an effective time to hold meetings. However, that time may prove difficult for parents to attend. Planning time for meetings, and adequate teacher preparation time need to be supported by the administrative staff.
Determine the Needs
Team members should meet to determine the student's needs.
The team will list the needs in order of priority so that the assignment of responsibility, and the goals and objectives of the IEP can be developed.
A typical list of needs:
INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION PROGRAM (IEP)
The individualized educational program (IEP) will serve as a way of monitoring the student's progress and communicating results to the student, parents and staff. It will also be an ongoing record of the student's growth.
The IEP is a guide to keep you and others who work with the student on track. And it will help you link the student's high priority learning needs to the regular curriculum. The IEP will describe goals in three or four high priority areas (but not all of the student's learning for the year), as identified by the team.
Each school district has an IEP format to follow. The information included will be the same no matter the format.
The parents will be asked to sign the IEP to confirm their support of the program plan. Invite the parents' input while the document is in its draft form rather than at the time when they are being asked to sign the final document.
The Teacher as Plan Coordinator
The classroom teacher, as the one primarily responsible for the student's learning, generally coordinates the writing of the IEP. It is not appropriate for anyone other than the teacher and members of the collaborative team to write the plan because it must be individualized for the child in your class.
As you become involved in writing the IEP you will develop ownership of the program. No educational program will be laid upon you. You can decide, based on your teaching style and method of organizing for instruction, what you can do in your classroom and when you will need support.
Your professional knowledge will be important to the collaborative team as it establishes a plan for the child with special needs.
The teacher's professionalism will also help parents. They will see, in your openness and willingness to collaborate, that your classroom is a safe and open environment where children progress at their own rate.
Current Level of Achievement
The IEP includes a statement of the student's present level of achievement. This information comes from the collaborative team, from any additional assessments, and from the reports of the previous year. It includes a statement of the student's strengths and interests. The level of achievement should be related to each curriculum area.
Perhaps performance cannot be described in terms of "grade" levels in some instances. But any level or form of communication can be linked to language arts, any level of inquiry can be linked to science, and any level of number concept can be linked to math.
What Will the Student Learn?
The learning goals for the student arise directly from the high priority needs identified by the collaborative team. The present level of achievement, which you have just identified, will be the base line for instruction. Write the objectives in such a way that you can monitor whether the student has achieved them, using terms such as: recognize, listen, name, tell, place, order, collect, list, demonstrate, use.
The IEP goals are considered of high priority for the student because they:
Each member of the collaborative team should be willing to be responsible for some aspects of the plan.
When writing the IEP it is necessary to record who is responsible for carrying out the different components of the student's program plan. Verify that each person is aware of and accepts their responsibilities. This is an important part of making sure that you are supported, and that the successful inclusion of the student is the responsibility of the whole school community.
Including Pertinent Information
The IEP can include information about behavior and learning styles. For example, record the length of time the student is able to stay on task without a change of materials or a reason to move around. Or, mention how the student reacts to a change in routines, or whether the student requires visual as well as auditory cues.
You can include a list of specialized equipment such as: a Touch Window for a student to be able to interact with the computer, a walker for a student who can be ambulatory in the classroom, or a bean bag chair to provide an alternate position for a student who has a physical disability.
Information on the places where additional learning resources may be borrowed or purchased can be recorded so that it is readily available when needed. Note variables that affect the student's performance, including: position and intensity of lighting, times of the day when the student is likely to be fatigued, appropriate position for the student in the classroom.
Monitoring the IEP
At the beginning of the school year, set three or four dates for reviews of the IEP. The dates should be convenient for the teacher, the family, and the members of the collaborative team. At each meeting, the team should ask the question, "Does the IEP still reflect the needs of the student?"
You will need to share the student's progress toward goals that were set, and assess the effectiveness of the strategies and resources that you are using. From this information, the team members will decide whether to adjust the goals or expectations, and whether to select different objectives or ways for the student to indicate that he is advancing towards the goals.
If a student has been engaged in working towards a particular goal without success, it may be time to choose a way of getting around the task, or agreeing that the student will continue to need support from someone else to accomplish it.
Preparing for Next Year
The IEP will be invaluable to next year's teacher. If possible, invite this teacher, and others who will be involved in the student's program, to the final IEP review meeting. Provide an opportunity for the next teacher to ask questions, and give the assurance that the collaborative team will continue to provide support and cooperation.
Share the student's level of achievement, his or her strengths and interests, and successes of the past year. Discuss the strategies, resources and adaptations that really helped the student to learn, and comment on the ones that did not work.
The team should identify continuing high priority needs, and those needs which might be added to the list. This will help set priorities for the next year.
Other issues children with special needs may struggle with include:
Sexuality and Safety Concerns
Discuss with the parents how the student will
learn about how to cope with puberty, dating and
the use of drugs and alcohol, and how the school can support what is being taught in the home. It is necessary to respect the individual parent's priorities, values and lifestyle. There is usually a course which addresses these issues, in which the student can be included, but there will be a need for additional explanation and reinforcement of the material.
The student may already be aware of the concept of appropriate and inappropriate touching, but it will need to be reinforced in the teen years. Students who are challenged are very vulnerable to sexual abuse and parents and teachers should be alert to this possibility.
Students who are challenged need to be involved in out-of-school activities, such as skating, bowling, aquatic exercise, pottery, youth groups, swimming, dancing or natural history. This often needs the involvement of friends and some structuring to ensure the student's safety.
The student and peer group need to be able to communicate without always having an aide or adult in the group to interpret. For a student who is non-verbal, this may mean teaching the peers some essential signs that the student uses, or setting up some cue cards for the student to point to on particular occasions, such as the choice of food at McDonalds, the time the student is to be home, and the phone number.
Create opportunities for the student who is challenged to help others. It does not build an individual's self esteem to have to accept help without being able to give in return.
Achievement and Self-Esteem
Many schools have entered cooperative agreements with local businesses and industry which enable students to learn work skills as part of the regular curriculum. The student who is challenged can benefit from being included in this program along with the other students. This is a very different approach from having the student who is challenged go to a community based program alone while the other students are in school.
Many students have part time work after school. The student with challenging needs may also have a part time job. Organizational skills, time and punctuality, appropriate mature behavior, personal appearance and taking responsibility become important needs and must be included in the student's IEP goals.
At the secondary level, the student who is challenged
needs many opportunities to choose. It may be choice of clothing and other
decisions about personal appearance, activities, classes in which to enroll,
and possessions. The staff and the parents must be in touch with the peer
group so that they know what is acceptable and are prepared to live with the
choices their son or daughter makes.
The student who is challenged will have ambitions, just as other students do. Often ambitions are squelched because they seem unrealistic. Allow the student to try out for the swim team, the role in the play, the position on the school council and the position as assistant in the library. The experience of being chosen, as well as that of not getting the job, is part of growing and has relevance to the student's future.
Respect for Privacy
Respect the student's need for privacy. Many students who are challenged will require assistance with personal care, at a time when they are self conscious about their changing bodies. Any physical intervention which does not enhance the student's image should be carried out in private. The adults who continue to be involved with the student must act with great discretion and sensitivity.
During interactions with peers, or in a peer group activity, it may be important to intervene and reinforce the group in their endeavors. There are key considerations that must be kept in mind:
1 The Inclusion homepage can be found at http://www.quasar.ualberta.ca/ddc/incl/intro.htm
Assistive Technology Breaks Down Barriers
by Barb Manegold
Imagine an excited eight-year-old wide-eyed and breathless with anticipation as the line moves forward to see her favorite TV character at a special public appearance, when suddenly her face falls as there is a confrontation with an insurmountable barrier - a flight of stairs. You see, this child is in a wheelchair, and there's not a ramp or elevator in sight.
A teen wants to be as comfortable "logging on" and "cruising the information superhighway" as all the kids his age seem to be. But he's blind. Can internet access or E-mail work for him?
Parents of a child who is hard of hearing want to be sure that everything possible is being done to help their child understand teachers and classmates. Can you advise them as to what the best available technology is? Probably not. So who can?
TECH 2000/Michigan's Assistive Technology Network (MATN) was created to break through barriers, open up communications, and cut through helplessness for people in Michigan who need the power of assistive technology to be fully functional in their daily lives. TECH 2000/MATN is funded through a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education and administered through Michigan Jobs Commission-Rehabilitation Services, the state agency responsible for Vocational Rehabilitation. It was established to identify, organize, and disseminate information about Assistive Technology (AT) of all kinds to consumers and service providers.
What exactly is AT? Assistive Technology refers to any device or service that improves a person's functional capabilities and helps him or her become more independent and productive at work, at home, at school, and in the community. There are nearly 20,000 items recognized as AT, ranging from low-tech pen holders, reachers, and walkers to high tech computer voice synthesizers, power wheelchairs and assistive listening devices. As you might imagine, assistive technology is a great enabler and in many cases can even be an equalizer. AT can allow individuals abilities that most people take for granted: mobility, communication and integration into society.
This article features two TECH 2000/MATN initiatives that might be useful to adoption professionals who provide services to families and children with special needs.
Michigan Assistive Technology Clearinghouse (MATCH) is a state-wide electronic bulletin board system (BBS) that allows ALL interested individuals in Michigan (consumers, families, friends, employers, service providers, educators, and rehabilitation professionals) the ability to communicate with each other and share information on assistive technology, special education, and other disability related issues. With connections to the Internet, MATCH offers a wide variety of communications options, including:
MATCH is an interactive system, meaning that people can send (upload) information or questions to MATCH which will then be posted for groups of people to read and respond to. Messages posted on one specific topic, such as funding of assistive technology devices and services are listed in "forums" which facilitate searching for information on topics of interest. Users can also download (receive) information and obtain free communication shareware. They can access databases containing information about manufacturers of AT and community resources related to AT devices, services, and funding.
Access to MATCH is FREE and easy. All you need is a computer, modem, and phone line to dial the toll-free phone number 1-800-445-9378 or you may use your local Michnet phone number. Once people connect to MATCH they can follow the on-screen directions. They do not have to be a computer wizard to use it! It is really "user friendly."
LEGAL BASED ADVOCACY
TECH 2000/MATN has contracted with Michigan Protection & Advocacy Services (MPAS) to provide legal-based advocacy services to all qualified Michigan citizens. A full-time attorney and a full-time advocate were hired to work on AT related issues. MPAS is committed to representing twenty children in selected cases where AT devices or services are not being provided in schools; to represent ten children in selected cases where schools are not letting the children take AT devices home; and provide technical assistance to thirty families requesting AT evaluations, services, and devices from the schools.
MPAS has developed a consumer AT funding manual. It is conducting a number of training sessions involving consumer self-advocacy, and training lawyers in rural areas on assistive technology issues. MPAS also has a forum on MATCH devoted to legal/advocacy issues called, "Legal Questions and Answers." For information on MPAS service call: 800-288-5923
If you are working with a child or family that can benefit from AT and need assistance, log onto MATCH or contact MPAS for their services. For further information about TECH 2000/MATN call the project office at 517-334-6502.
In addition to being tracking coordinator at MARE, Barb Manegold, who is hard of hearing, is a member of the TECH 2000/MATN State Advisory Council. You are invited to direct questions or comments to her at in:email@example.com.
The MATCH home page at www.MATCH.com served as a source for this article.
To Log In on MATCH
When you first log on, you will see a series of questions that you must answer in order to gain access to the system. Follow the on-screen directions. For MATCH users in Michigan there are no fees of any kind for accessing this BBS.