Finding peace with the IEP Process

R. has only been in school for three years and I’ve conveniently lost count of how many IEP meetings we have had. In some ways it is easier, I know what to expect and I’m able to manage the process as much as they let me. But it is always stressful to hash over all my daughter’s challenges and wonder if we are making the correct decisions.

An IEP is a document that is meant to be changed as needed. 

It feels like they are creating this master menu of all the potential for my daughter over the year and if I don’t get it right then she’s going to miss out on something crucial.  But an IEP can be changed at anytime.

R. has only had two teachers so far, but with each I talked to them about their willingness to make minor changes to the IEP without calling the entire team together for a meeting.

Everything on the IEP should be easy to understand and implement even by someone unfamiliar with my child.

It really helps to read through the IEP at times when I don’t have to. When there’s no major issues or an impending meeting I can be more objective.

The Present Levels of Performance section of the IEP is the first window to R. that a school professional will see.  I generally send my own list of strengths, abilities and weaknesses to the teacher prior to the IEP meeting. It is common that R. will show new skills at home before they see them at school and this information should be included in this section. I’ve never had them disagree.

There are many resources for writing IEP goals out there.

Cultivate relationships with the professionals on my child’s IEP team and inform them of my expectations regarding the process.

We have been lucky to have had nothing but good and great team members since R. started with public school.

I have the email addresses for the OT and ST at R.’s school and I communicate with them, asking questions and updating them regarding progress and challenges. I don’t do this too often, but I do feel like I’m getting the information I need from them. And when it comes time for the IEP meeting, I don’t feel like I’m meeting with strangers and they are not surprised by any of my comments or suggestions.

I also communicate with the teacher, again I don’t make a pest of myself but she knows my concerns and what has been working. I’ve always sent an agenda of my concerns, what goals I would like updated or added and any questions. With R.’s current teacher she has been awesome enough to see me for a Pre-IEP meeting. She gives me half an hour and I’ve been good about not going over––yes I have to watch the clock to make sure.

Educate myself and learn when to trust my judgement and instincts.

I’ve realized that I don’t need to have the common core standards committed to memory––and there’s an app for that. There’s actually a  mind-boggling amount of information out there like these goal banks:

IEP Goal Bank

DIR Goal Bank Handout

I speak to other parents and attend trainings when needed. Sometimes the hardest part is knowing when to stop gathering information for a while.  Thinking back to Dr. Greenspan’s analogy of development and building a skyscraper I have to be careful not to pick out the drapes before there are any windows to cover.

 

 

 

The Placement IEP meeting

We had our annual IEP yesterday.   We got the biggest compliment from the teacher and content coordinator – they said we were so calm during the meeting.

Of course I was nervous about the whole thing, but I will admit that by the time the meeting rolled around I was feeling at peace because I felt that I knew what to ask for.  I think that is the hardest thing about planning R.’s education, I have no experience or even a point of reference.

But over the last couple of months I realized that I do know R. better than anyone and my instincts are usually correct.  I’ve certainly always known and tried to act as though I was in charge.  But I think with this whole kindergarten process I had to remind myself.

A few days prior to the meeting I emailed the teacher a list of our concerns, the goals we wanted to add or change and our thoughts about kindergarten transition and placement.

I know that some parents warn against doing this, because it can give the school department time to prepare their arguments.  But in our case I think it only helped.  The teacher shared the email with the rest of the team as I hoped she would.  We were able to get the the process of the meeting faster because everyone knew what we wanted to talk about.

I also gave the teacher permission to prepare a draft IEP based on the email.   This also helped the meeting move smoothly.  She actually gave me all the goals we wanted, and in some cases used my exact wording.

This was the most positive meeting yet.

They said she can sit at a TEACCH station and do work for 15 minutes!   This is the child who could barely sit down when she started preschool.

The ST finally acknowledged that she is using 1-2 words consistently to communicate and increased her goal to 3 word utterances.

They also said she is playing appropriately with many toys and does pretend play on her own.   They added the goals I wanted about engaging with peers on the playground.

She can trace her name and letters and numbers, she is writing some letters on her own and can copy when the teacher writes on the board.

She is not putting her fingers in her ears as often.  I made them all acknowledge that they are aware that if she has her fingers in her ears it does not mean lack of attention.

R. is participating more in circle time.  Every day they sing “We all go traveling by.”  The teacher has vehicle cut outs that she uses for choices.  She asks R. do you want the yellow bus or red car?   R. said pink bike!  (which is one of the other choices)

They all said she is being mischievous.  If they open the toy closet she will run over, knock some over and laugh.   She will pick up the toys or whatever when they tell her to.   I’m happy that they see this as a good sign developmentally and not a hassle.

They wrote this:
R. is intelligent and curious.  She likes to seek out new way things work, and watches intently when you show her how something works.

Originally they did not plan to have a general ed teacher at our IEP meeting.   The CA law says that a general ed teacher has to be at an IEP meeting if any aspect of being included in the general ed class is to be discussed.  I wrote them, mentioning what I wanted to discuss, how a general ed teacher has been at all of her annual IEPs so far, and mentioning the law.    I offered to change the date of the meeting, and offered my consent for the general ed teacher to only attend part of the meeting as long as the topic she needed to discuss was addressed.

So we had a general ed teacher at the meeting.  Her time was limited so we discussed things out of order.    I asked for R. to be included for a short time in the general ed preschool (at her school location).

I also planned to ask for mainstreaming in kindergarten, but they put off all discussion of services relating to kindergarten until the transition IEP in April.  I suspected they might do this, but it was worth asking.

They were supportive of having R. go into the general ed preschool, and we had a good discussion about what would work best with scheduling and R. herself.   They suggested during free time, so R. could go and be confident doing puzzles or playing with toys.  She will have an aide with her.  It seems like they are encouraging the aides to be as hands off as possible, if she is working on her own the aide will go help other students.  I like that they are doing it this way, because R. could be interested in only interacting with the aide, and she can be prompt dependent.

I had to give permission for her to miss some of recess.  She has a long recess and we are going to start with just ten minutes, so I think that will be fine.

We all agreed that the SI (Severely Impacted) classes were the best fit because of small class size, structure and ABA style teaching.

They said that we can change the class type at any IEP meeting.   Even if we have a placement, we could change our minds in April.   I’m sure it is more difficult than they make it out to be, but it is good to know that they don’t consider anything permanent.

September Meeting

We had our monthly ABA meeting at the school with the teacher this month.   We set the date for the IEP meeting that will determine the type of kindergarten placement for the beginning of November.   That seems so close.

I was hoping to have an IEP meeting this month to update some goals.  But since we have so many meetings and IEPs, the teacher and I agreed that I would email her the goals we discussed and she would update it.

Most of the goals I want updated are simple enough.  R. has mastered recognition of the alphabet, numbers 1-10 and the prewriting goals.   She is actually writing some letters in class.   I asked for more writing goals – tracing more complicated shapes, copying shapes and writing the alphabet and her name.

I also asked to increase the numbers to 20.  I know she knows them, I wonder if I should have gone up to 30.

R. is talking more in class, asking for things and labeling all sorts of items.  We discussed that she does not always make sure she has someone’s attention before asking for something and then gets frustrated.  The teacher had been working on getting her to tap her on the shoulder and say her name before requesting.

She has a goal about responding to someone else by making eye contact and orienting her body towards the speaker.  So I suggested that we make an actual goal that she would get someone’s attention before requesting something.

R. has also been refusing to wear a smock for water play and painting.  She used to wear one, but for some reason will not do so.  I asked for a goal for wearing a smock during these activities and then to put it on herself.  It seems like a weird goal, but I think that it will help her in a few ways if she would agree to wear it.

And another meeting

We had our monthly ABA team meeting yesterday.  R.’s teacher wanted to come with us, so we picked them up at school.   R. seemed to want to show me around the room, she kept bringing me over to different things.

She brought me over to the toy area, pulled out a play phone and held it up to my ear.  I think this is quite amazing because I’ve been trying to figure out how to teach her about the telephone.  Every time I call someone and get them to talk to her she looks at the phone as if it should have a screen, and usually hands it back.

The temporary classroom is smaller than their other room, there is no sink or bathroom.   The teacher said that they started taking the kids to the cafeteria for lunch and it is going really well.

The supervisor and one of the therapists were out sick, and the behaviorist had not seen the new IEP (yet to be signed, because I just got the final copy today.).  So there were a lot of things that did not get covered, but it was good to have the teacher’s input.

We talked even more about the manding progam, and moving beyond the word want and noun, to play, drink eat and more specific verbs.  It seemed to me like we were worrying the same bone as last month.  But the teacher and behaviorist were able to talk about the reasoning in detail, and I think that helped everyone.   The behaviorist wanted to make sure that enough time had been spent on one word mands, in case R. was thinking two word mands are just one long word.  She had the teacher and I list words we hear spontaneously, and thought there were enough to proceed.

The behaviorist said she observed during recess recently.  R. was playing a drum with some other girls (in the gen-ed glass)  She saw the behaviorist and approached her,  obviously recognizing her and showed her the drum.

The teacher said that she is teaching R. to tap her on the shoulder and say her name instead of tugging on her hand when they are seated together.  I saw this in action several times,  R. tapped the teacher on the shoulder and said her name!

Made it through the IEP meeting

I survived R.’s second annual IEP meeting.   I don’t have a copy of the final IEP yet, they are still working on it.  The meeting lasted two and a half hours, the time flew by until the last 30 minutes or so.

The most exciting thing to me is that R. is now going to be getting OT.   In addition to the class fine/gross motor group, she will get individual therapy – 30 minutes a week.  Our school district works on what they call a 3:1 delivery model for direct therapies like OT and ST.  This means that the students get therapy three weeks a month and the therapists work on consultations and preparation.   I was expecting to maybe get just the 30 minutes of consultation.  I still have to decipher the OT assessment, I’m sure I’ll write more on this.

Currently R. gets ST twice a week, once individual and once in group.  She is not taken out of class, and at this point I do not want her to be removed.  The ST works with her individually in the classroom.  The ST said that to work on R.’s turn taking and peer related goals she would bring another student into the individual session.  It sounded to me like she wanted to change the IEP to be twice a week of group therapy.  I told her that I did not have a problem with her doing what she described, but I did not want to change the wording in the IEP.  I said that next year I might want R. to be removed from class for ST, and this would leave things in place for that.   She gave me the strangest smile and agreed.

Last year at our first IEP I really fought for that individual session.  At this point I think it probably is better for R. to have peers involved in ST.   I don’t want that written into the IEP, because I don’t know that it will be the best way in the future.  At least I have that option to push for the individual session to be one on one if it seems necessary.

R.’s ABA was continued at the same level of hours until her next annual IEP.   Last year they gave her six months of ABA with a required addendum IEP meeting to renew.  I did not think they would reduce hours or discontinue service, but you never know.  It is a relief to not have to worry about that for a year.

This is the first IEP meeting where everyone who attended really knew R.  Even the general ed teacher knew R.   She did not stay for the entire time (I gave permission for her to leave, technically I could have refused, but there was no reason to.).  She did give some input about activities that could be done on the playground to help with turn taking and peer related goals.

Everyone was positive and had a lot to say about progress.  When she started preschool last March she was non-verbal and reliant upon PECS.  She was not compliant, was aversive to a visual schedule (despite using one at home).  While she is not talking as much at school as at home, she is definitely able to repeat words and has some spontaneous speech.  She complies with simple instructions, she will stop doing something or take her hands off.   She uses the visual schedule, can pick her name out and transition from activity to activity.

The teacher, gen ed teacher, OT and ST all said that R. really enjoys being with the other kids in her class and in the other classes.  The OT said she thinks R. prefers to do activities with her classmates than one on one with her.

I actually learned some things R. can do at school that I have not seen at home – she hangs up her backpack and jacket after removing them.  (I’ve only seen the removing.)  She can wipe a table with a cloth.  That gives me so many possibilities, starting with window washing this afternoon!

She can pick her name out of a field of ten, and the OT thinks she can write the letters in her name with assistance.   They added goals related to handwriting, letter, number and symbol recognition, and one to one correspondence.  Basically all the academic goals I thought should be added.   I asked about a counting goal and they said they thought she could count and they did not see a need for a goal regarding she could already do.

They did make the change to make the goal I wrote about into two goals.  One goal for initiating with peers and another for adults.  I also asked them to add the qualification in a familiar situation, so that if this gets mastered we can track if she can do this in a unique situation.   I also asked about a waiting goal and the teacher said that from her perspective she was happy with R.’s ability to wait.  She described how R. would line up against the wall with the other students and look at books while waiting.

She made progress on all of her goals except drinking from a straw and using utensils.   The OT really wants to work on using a fork.   I suggested that they we try using the fork as a play utensil, picking up putty or something she knows she does not have to eat.

I also saw the new temporary classroom.  The teacher said that R. transitioned to the new room without a problem.   It is smaller, they had to put the class trampoline in the hallway, much to the delight of students in all the other classes.

January ABA team meeting

We had our monthly meeting today with the ABA team.  One of my concerns is that R. is over generalizing the mand, want book.  She is saying want book for nearly everything she wants.   The supervisor thought that this was typical for R, and she’s right. R. does have a tendency to over generalize specific mands when they are first learned.  She also said that they are working on an object identification program that will help R. increase her vocabulary, and this should help.

R. will come to me and say want book, while she hand leads me to what she wants, which is rarely a book.  If she wants a cookie, I’ll say want cookie and she will only repeat the word cookie.  I know it is common for children with autism to repeat just the last word.  I do find I can get R. to repeat two word requests when they don’t contain the word want.

We discussed this for quite a while.   They suggested that when she says want book, we should give her a book, even if we know that is not what she wants.  Then when she refuses the book we should prompt her to say the correct mand.  We decided that we should limit our use of want, okay I pushed for this, but it wasn’t hard to get them to agree.    So instead of want cookie, I’ll say eat cookie, instead of want water I’ll say drink water, instead of want open, I’ll say open door.    They modified their mand program so they will work on eat cookie, play ball and want doll.

R. has started saying Hi spontaneously, mostly to inanimate objects.    She was cold so I put a sweater on her, she looked at it and said Hi, with the most joyous, glad to see you tone.  She said Hi to the water in her shower, to the box of cookies, to the new straw I put in her cup, always with that pleased as can be tone in her voice.   The behaviorist and supervisor thought this was a little weird, but cute.  The therapists said they thought it was typical behavior for  an early talker.

They are increasing R.’s sitting on the toilet to twenty seconds, up from ten seconds this week and last.  Her pants are still on while she is sitting.  We discussed the fact that she needs to sit for the entire twenty seconds with out any prompting.  They are giving her a reinforcer after sitting, and they wondered if they should give her the reinforcer while sitting.  I said that I would like to keep reinforcing her after sitting, until we get to her sitting with her pants down.   Then when we switch to pulling her pants down, she’ll also have the addition of a reinforcer while she is sitting.  They agreed.

R. has been doing jigsaw puzzles with the image on the background, so it is really matching.  They are going to start doing the same puzzles without the background.  I’ve been doing a jigsaw puzzle with her lately with no background, and she is starting to get it.   I think she has memorized the picture, but that is okay, at least she finds it interesting.   She’s bored with her insert puzzles, so I’m looking for other activities like that.  It’s like it needs to be a little challenging, but not too easy or difficult.

They are working on a new tracing program.  R. is supposed to trace a dotted horizontal line.  She needs a little bit of a prompt but she seems to like doing this.   I know she likes to have me hold her hand and we do dot to dots or write the alphabet.  The behaviorist wants me to stop doing that until she gets further along in this program.   It bugs me a little, but I do get where she is coming from.  We’ll do more coloring.

I finally asked about being provided a list, even a short one of activities that we could do with R. on days off and sick days.  She seems to be bored and looking for more to do on those days.   They said they could give me a list of the programs that were on maintenance, and seemed to think it was a good suggestion.

One of our therapists is leaving, Friday is his last day.   It happens all the time, but it always makes me a little sad, and he says he is too.  R. really loves him, I hear them both laughing throughout their sessions.

Gearing up for the annual IEP meeting

I confirmed the date for R’s annual IEP meeting.  We had an addendum IEP in October,  but this will be the first IEP with all of the current team present.  At next year’s  annual IEP meeting the decision will be made regarding kindergarten placement.  I feel kind of pressured to make sure that as many skills that she could possibly attain in regards to that transition are included now as opposed to then.

R.’s teacher and the general education preschool teacher have made changes to add mainstreaming and reverse mainstreaming opportunities during specific parts of the school day.  They are already integrated for all of their recess time.   Currently on her IEP, in the notes section, detailing the placement, it says there are opportunities for mainstreaming and reverse mainstreaming per teacher discretion.  I’m thinking of adding a specific goal related to mainstreaming, but I haven’t converted my thoughts into IEP-speak yet.

One of the things I’m learning from the classes I am taking is how to look at goals and see if they are attainable and measurable.  There’s a goal on R.’s IEP, under Developmental Skills R. will initiate with familiar adults or peers using appropriate eye gaze, body position, gestures or words as implemented by the Special education teacher, SPED staff, parents. It seems to me now, that initiating with adults and initiating with peers should be two separate goals.  The way the goal reads now, they may tell me that she has made 50% progress on this goal, meaning that 5 out of 10 times she initiated with an adult or a peer.  I know she initiates with adults at school and home, but with peers she rarely does so. If they are two separate goals the team will have to address and track her initiating with adults and peers separately.   She will have twice the programming and I’ll get twice the data.

Many of the goals in the Developmental Skills section are really pre-learning skills.  I’m sure she hasn’t mastered all of them, but I know from conversations with R.’s teacher that she is in agreement that we will be adding actual educational goals.   I would like to add a goal to this section about waiting.  I do realize that goals need to be individual, but I found this goal on the internet to at least get the idea started.   Will be able to follow an adult’s request to wait for her turn given materials to manipulate during the waiting period for two minutes. I’d also like to add a goal about playing with toys appropriately, and possibly a second one relating to playground equipment.

I’m searching for a book on this topic, suggestions are welcome.  But for now I found a simple article that outlines preschool IEP goals that is helpful.  I’m sure that I will be writing more about this.