ADAMS ESQ attorneys and advocates review IEPs to determine if they offer a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) and can meet your child’s unique needs. Often, parents believe that they have only one shot each year to beef up their child’s IEP and they insist upon pages and pages of goals and objectives in a wide variety of areas. Some IEPs include a long list of boilerplate accommodations that sound impressive but are not designed to help the child. This is a mistake.
Complicated goals can make it difficult to prioritize and focus on the areas that are most important to your child’s success. Also, excessive goals and objectives can sometimes mask the fact that your child is not making progress and may be regressing in critical areas. As attorneys, complex goals and objectives and vague offers of FAPE make it challenging to determine whether the school district is doing its job in meeting your child’s needs from year to year.
Here’s how to prioritize:
- Think ahead. Consider what skills your child must have in order to be independent when he transitions to adulthood. Depending on a number of factors, including age, cognitive ability and type of disability, this can include anything from basic toileting, life skills, communication or behavior goals to proficiency in reading, writing, math or organizational skills. Insist on clear, simple goals and objectives to master those basic building blocks.
- Seek answers. Review all school district standardized testing and reports and consider requesting an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) which is like a “second opinion”. You also might reach out to advocates and other parents (preferably in your same school district) that have already gone through the IEP process to help you zero-in on the best schools, teachers and service providers for your child. There are local advocacy organizations like TASK, Fiesta Educativa and Parents Helping Parents in California and FEAT, NEACCY and CSD Children’s Advocacy Project in Nevada. Some Regional Centers also have advocates who will attend IEP meetings with you. Ask lots of questions to determine what areas to focus on at your child’s IEP meeting.
- Customize. Remember that this is an individualized education program designed to meet your child’s unique special education needs. Your child’s IEP should never mimic a one-size-fits all general education program, but instead should be customized for her. Avoid lots of “boiler-plate” goals, placements and services. Instead, start with what your child needs in order to make meaningful progress.
- Pick your battles. It’s tempting to fight for absolutely everything to be included in your child’s IEP. However, it may be wise to pick your battles. For example, instead of fighting for five or six school-based occupational therapy goals, consider only one or two school-based goals and supplement them with clinic-based OT through your private insurance.
- Build on success. Look to prior IEPs and speak to your child’s teachers and service providers to help you judge which interventions work and which ones are not effective. Focus on the successful goals and build from there. Often, once a child reaches his goals in a particular area, like speech, the service is improperly withdrawn altogether. Instead, the child’s success in this area should be expanded by developing higher-level communication goals and objectives.
As with children, all cases are different. This series is not intended to provide legal advice or cover all IEP situations. However, just as it is important to prepare for IEP meetings, it is also important to prioritize your child educational plan.
Next post: Mistake #3 – The Never-ending IEP meeting.