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.

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.

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.

Week of meetings

Tuesday we had an addendum IEP meeting to continue R’s ABA services.   When she had her initial evaluation with the SDs ABA provider they were not happy with our former provider’s programming, data taking and they felt that R. could have made more progress if the program direction was better.   So for her initial IEP they approved six months with a provision to review.

They approved continuation of the ABA, which I thought they would, but you never know.  They also took some time to add in additional goals.   The teacher asked for a behavior plan for when R is chewing on books (more of a problem lately).  She said that she had been taking away the book and offering a chewy toy, but she felt that we should be modeling appropriate behavior with the book instead of taking it away.   The ABA supervisor set up a behavior plan that says, when she chews on a book to stop her, get her to spit out anything in her mouth (she actually cooperates with this, she knows she should not chew on a book)  and then get her to look at the book properly, once she does this give her a chewy toy.   I guess this means that I’ll actually have to buy some of those chewy toys.

I asked about self-help skills, and they added IEP goals for removing her jacket, independent hand washing, and nose blowing.  They also added goals for drinking from a straw and an open cup.  She uses a straw cup with a soft straw all the time, but she won’t drink from a regular hard straw or even a juice box.  I know she knows how to drink from an open cup but she thinks it is more fun to dump it.

We discussed potty training, it is on her IEP.  I know she is not ready yet, but I was looking for advice regarding the first goal which is R. letting us know when she needs a diaper change.   The teacher suggested having R. wear underwear underneath her diaper to see if she would try to take it off or let us know when she’s wet.   I’m going to have to find Elmo underwear.

We also had our monthly ABA team meeting this week.  We used to have the meeting at the school, but now we have it at their offices (they are part of the SD, in one of the administrative buildings).  R. actually really likes going, they have fun toys and she seems to find it amusing to have us all sitting in one room.

The behaviorist said that based on her observations that R. had decent play skills.  She had decided not to add any additional play skill programs.  But the teacher said that R. is not showing any of these play skills at school, even though they have similar toys.  So  the behaviorist is adding a symbolic play program using Little People that she has at home and school in hopes that she will begin to generalize.

We discussed the other additions to the IEP and went over the programs.    They had a jack in the box among the toys in the room and R. was very interested.  I don’t think she has ever seen one before.  She did not like the music it played and would turn the crank and then cover her ears.  After awhile she figured out how to open the top without using the crank.  The behaviorist asked if we wanted them to address her putting her fingers in her ears.  I said that I did not.  It is something new that she is doing, so it could be a phase.  And I think that if she is bothered by sounds, putting her fingers in her ears is a great improvement over screaming or crying.