Making Special Education Plans with Your Child
When it’s apparent that your child requires some extra help, you and your partner are the ones responsible for setting up the special education plans in collaboration with the school district. When your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) is not being properly implemented, it’s your job to file a complaint. It’s also your job to make sure your child has the speech therapy sessions and tools he needs, like Speech Buddies for articulation work. But is it ever your child’s job to get involved in their own special education plans?
Parents often instinctively shield their youngsters from the more unsavory issues in life, like bureaucratic red tape. And indeed, a young child should not dive headfirst into a pile of IEP paperwork. But having your youngster become at least partially involved in his own special education plans can introduce a human element into the process and remind the IEP team of why they are meeting in the first place. After all, it’s his education that the team is discussing. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and parents should always consider their children’s unique situation.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which regulates special education plans, has provided for the involvement of the minor child in the IEP process. The law requires that the IEP team include the child whenever it is appropriate to do so, so long as the parents will allow it. So ultimately, it is your decision. However, when an IEP meeting is convened to discuss postsecondary plans and transition services, your child must be invited. (The child can always refuse, but this is usually not recommended.)
Considerations: Pros & Cons
Your child can learn quite a lot from participating in the IEP meeting. He might not understand all the jargon, but he can grasp the basics when they are explained to him in age-appropriate language. He may feel more engaged in his classes and speech therapy sessions if he plays an active role in determining the direction of his education.
Likewise, the IEP team will be reminded that at the heart of all that jargon is an actual child with real dreams and real needs. Ilise, mom of a child with multiple learning disabilities, published a first-hand account on the National Center for Disabilities website. She recounted how her son, Jay, was in danger of losing his special education accommodations because the IEP team felt that a 100% on a spelling test and a high grade on a reading comprehension test meant that he no longer needed assistance. Jay attended his IEP meeting and explained that the spelling test was a short make-up quiz and that he hadn’t even read the reading comprehension test; his answers were based on previous knowledge. Jay kept his accommodations.
However, every child is different. Some children may simply be too young to attend. Certain disorders or disabilities, such as autism, may interfere with the child’s ability to interact comfortably in unfamiliar situations. If you feel that your child would be negatively impacted by participating in an IEP meeting, then it might not be in his best interests to do so. Discuss the matter with your child and ask him what he thinks about it. Even if he does not participate now, he might begin to take a more active role in later years.
Participation in Parent-Teacher Conferences
Traditionally, parent-teacher (PT) conferences involve only parents and teachers. But when you consider including your child in special education plans, consider including him in PT conferences. In certain situations, this may not work. For example, you might need to discuss issues with the teacher that your child should not hear. But otherwise, having your child take a more active role in steering the direction of his education may encourage him to become more engaged in class.
At High Tech High, a charter school in Chula Vista, CA, teachers and parents step aside and let the students lead the way. During these student-led conferences (SLCs), the student presents samples of classwork from each class, followed by the student’s goals for each class. A teacher is present to guide the student if needed. The charter school praises the program for improving conference attendance rates. The school also notes that SLCs instill self-advocacy and speaking skills. Kids who have participated in the program do very well when communicating with adults.
While this case study might be a little untraditional, the results are promising. Students with speech disorders will especially benefit by practicing taking the lead in conversations and setting their own goals. However, all involved might also benefit if the parents and teachers met without the students, in addition to SLCs.