The Special Education Continuum Explained: How to Determine the Best Placement for your Child-Part 2

(Please read background post here)

What is the best class for my child?

This is the most common question that I hear from parents who are getting ready to have a Turning 3* or a Turning 5** IEP meeting.  It is also a common concern for parents whose children have been recently diagnosed and will be in a similar situation.  The truth is, the right placement depends on your child’s needs, and your child’s needs should be at the heart of every IEP meeting that will result in a recommendation for placement for any student.

“But, wait”!  You may say.  “My child has just been diagnosed with Williams Syndrome.  Doesn’t that mean that he will need a much more restrictive environment, like perhaps a 12.1.4 self-contained class”?  Not necessarily.  Having a diagnosis does not necessarily mean that the student will AUTOMATICALLY be placed in a certain type of setting.  The diagnosis, or educational label, may inform the team and the providers as to what methods, strategies, and techniques may be useful for your child to learn optimally, but labels do not determine specific needs for every child. Neither can a diagnosis determine how much contact your child will have with his/her typically developing peers. 

Ideally, the IEP team at your child’s school (or at the regional Committee of Special Education) will have conducted an evaluation that covers every area of your child’s development.  This evaluation will help determine specific needs in the different domains, such as the cognitive, social, affective, and language domains.  You should make sure that the team that evaluated your child explains what was observed and what this would mean for assessing your child’s recommendation.  Please remember that you are also an integral part of the IEP team, and your feedback will provide invaluable input and will help the team determine what is best in your child’s case.

What happens if members of the team disagree on what recommendation to make?  Of course, in an unrealistic world all members of all teams agree on everything.  Of course, this is not a good way to grow.  We do well when we reveal our ideas and share them.  We may come up with better scenarios.  As a parent, do not be hesitant to share what you think and feel!  It is important! 

What happens if no matter what is said, the team does not agree with the parent?  There are certain resources to pursue in this case.  We will explore these and more in Part 3.  Stay tuned!

As always, if you have questions, drop me a note.

Best Placement Options
We all benefit when our special loved ones experience the best educational placement!
  • Turning 3 refers to an IEP meeting carried out when the child ages out of the Early Intervention Program and is ready to join preschoolers.
  • Turning 5 refers to an IEP meeting carried out when the child ages out of preschool and is ready to join elementary school peers.

Parental Rights: Obtaining Information from your School System

One of the most serious topics that I often have to deal with is dissemination of information on parental rights.  School systems tend to stay mum when it comes to providing accurate, easy to follow, and up-to-date information on how to follow proper procedures when a parent feels that the rights of his/her child have been violated.  I have often encountered those professionals who are simply afraid to mention next steps in regards to disagreement on children’s IEPs (Individualized Educational Plan), will not answer questions about the filing of impartial hearings, fail to point to guidelines and procedures, or simply withhold information that could be useful to a parent in making an informed decision.

Our world has changed for the better in many aspects, but professionals within school systems are still afraid that they could be penalized for expanding parent’s choices since those choices can come at an additional cost to the system.  For example, if your child has an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) that recommends that for the majority of the school day, he/she is to receive instruction in a 12.1.1 setting (12 students/1 teacher/1 assistant), and your child has not been receiving this type of instruction, then you can request mediation or an impartial hearing to resolve the issue.  Sometimes the issue can be resolved at the school level, sometimes a transfer is necessary, and some other times even a private school may be needed.  In the latter case, the school system is liable to reimburse the parent for school tuition, since federal law clearly states that this is an educational right (Free Appropriate Public Education).

I was involved in a difficult situation just a few days ago.  One of my co-workers, under my guidance, informed a mother that in order to better serve the needs of her child (who needed a great degree of educational supports), she had the option of having him attend a particular school who could supply him with a much more specialized and tailored program.  Of course, if she desired, she could also send both her children, the child who needs a special program and his brother in general education, to the closest school.  They would both be together at this location, and the school would have to figure out a way to service the child with special needs as they do not have a ready-made setting, but the option was also available.  The parent chose to have the siblings in separate schools but felt that this was the best setting for each child, therefore tailoring her children’s education to their needs, rather than using a cookie-cutter formula.

When the above situation was revealed to one of the administrators in the division that manages student enrollment for this school system, I was asked to not have these conversations with parents again, as the choice should have never been on the parent.  The administrator referenced the system’s new guidelines and explained how students’ disability status could not be taken into consideration.  This is a great misunderstanding, as the point of the new guidelines is to expand parental choice, so as to not confine the parent to only one choice, a choice that would only be based on the child’s disability.  However, it is perfectly all right, actually desirable, for a parent to have this information and made the choice based on the information that she has been provided.  This is the student’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education in his or her Least Restrictive Environment (more on this to come).

When it comes to dealing with school systems, your best option is to ASK, ASK, and ASK.  Don’t forget to drop me a line if you would like to get in touch with me!

Only by asking you will know!

I’m so Afraid!

Your child’s education may seem like a puzzle, an enigma that is difficult to figure out. Sometimes it is overwhelming, and it is easier to freeze with fear than to push ahead. I want to tell you that it is ok to be afraid. It is also ok to not know what to do, to not have all the answers. We need to start somewhere, and sometimes where we start it is a place of fear. Making peace with fear and accepting that fear will be a factor that is present in our lives will make an impact and will help in moving forward.
How do we deal with fear? It is important to know, that even though “conquering fear” is a very popular concept, it is not a practical one. Fear is something to accept, live with, recognize, but never let it rule us. Fear is an emotion, just like any other. Fear should not overcome us. When we are overwhelmed by feelings of “what do I do next?” or “why would they listen to me?” it is important to say, “Fear, I know you, I understand you, but I have to put you aside for now.” This is how we move on. We continue to move forward in spite of our fear. We continue to push ahead. We continue to walk this journey, together with our fear.
So when fear strikes, and the IEP meeting is around the corner, we should still ask questions, even if we are shaking, even if we feel like our question is not worth asking. All questions are worth spending time on, and all fears are worth exploring. People that deal with these situations should be understanding. If they are not, the burden is not on you. It’s on them.
Take a deep breath, exhale, and feel the spark within yourself. You can do this. You are afraid, yes, but you can do this, for yourself, for your child, and for your family.
And as always, reach out to me with comments and questions. You are not alone.

I referred my child for an IEP, now what?

You have just made a very difficult decision: You have decided that your child may do better in school, and perhaps in other areas of life, if a special plan is put into place to help him/her achieve academically. Now that this decision has been made, and you are done writing the letter that will determine your child’s future, what do you do?
For starters, give yourself a pat on the back. There will be many decisions that you will be faced with in the future, many difficult decisions, and this is just one of them. Once you have taken some time to do this, realize that you need to vigilantly keep track of how the evaluation proceeds. The time that elapses between referral and IEP should not be more than sixty days.
The evaluation process will consist of a few steps, but most importantly, this is a time for the team (more on the “team” later) to start assessment planning to figure out what is needed in terms of assessment. Typically, this assessment will include a social history report (generally done by a social worker interviewing the parent), a Psychosocial assessment (typically performed by a school psychologist during school hours), and classroom observations. These evaluations will determine “eligibility,” which means whether a student qualifies for special education services, or not. What determines this? Three criteria are used: 1) The student must have a disability, 2) The disability must have an impact in the student’s learning, 3) This disability/impact cannot be addressed in the general education classroom.
As a parent, this process can be overwhelming. It can also be nerve-wrecking. It is difficult to stay calm and collected when you don’t know what decision will be made, and worse yet, wonder whether the decision that is made is the best for your child. As a parent though, you have the right to ask questions, follow up, express your opinion, and be a very active member of this evaluation. You can approach the social worker, the school psychologist, and even the teacher/s and school administrators with your questions or concerns. The purpose of the evaluation is to come up with the strongest plan possible, and careful planning is very important. Your role is important!
As always, if you have any questions or you just want to share your experience, do not hesitate to write me a note!

Love,
Dr. Klimek

What is an IEP?

If your child was diagnosed with a disability, especially if this happened within the context of school, chances are that school personnel has approached you and has spoken to you about an “IEP.” In the shock of finding out that your child has a developmental disability, you may not even have had the strength to ask what it is. There are so many things in your mind!
IEP stands for Individualized Educational Plan. It is “individualized” because it belongs to your child and to your child alone. Each specific plan includes details that aim to capture the needs of each child, the level of functioning of each particular child, and delineates what is needed from now on. It is “educational” because this plan pertains to education and not to other areas of life. However, education does lead to other areas, such as vocational or post-secondary goals, and those areas are also covered on the IEP. It is a “plan” because it contains goals, objectives, methods, strategies, and a way to measure whether those goals have been attained. It is supposed to be assessed and revised accordingly over time.
IEPs are also legal documents that show what the student needs and what the student is entitled to. They clearly identify how a student best learns and the recommended settings and accommodations needed. This is very important as the family needs to be aware not only that the IEP exists, but also that this is a document that they have direct input on, access to, and also guarantees the exercise of parental rights, should a child not receive the services delineated on the IEP.
We will continue to talk about the many ramifications of a newly written IEP. In the meantime, please drop me a note if you have any questions.

Love,
Dr. Klimek