IEP Help, Part 2
How is this done? Through the use of an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. I can hear it now: “Oh, no, not this again!” Most parents whose children have been diagnosed with LD are all too familiar with the IEP. But those whose young adult children have only recently been diagnosed (and are still in high school) may not yet understand the importance of this document, which summarizes your teen’s academic records and achievements, and school evaluations to develop a plan for success.
High School—and Beyond
When a student is 14 (or even younger), it’s important to start looking at long-term goals based on the student’s preferences, needs, and interests. In fact, administrators are required under IDEA to recognize and begin planning for the student’s eventual transition to adulthood at the beginning of high school.
When the student turns 16, his IEP must be formally revised to include a section called a Transition Plan. This reflects the overall plans for the student’s life after graduation, beginning with a “diploma objective.” An IEP Diploma, for example, is earned by students with more severe LD who are not focused on academics as much as on learning skills for daily living.
Once the diploma objective is decided upon, the IEP team then determines the best transition services to meet that objective. Essentially, a Transition Plan helps the student move from high school to the next phase of his life.
For the college-bound student, a Transition Plan could include researching several colleges’ learning disability services and documentation requirements. Note: High schools are required to identify only the student’s current educational needs—not to provide the actual documentation for college. Some colleges may require new or supplemental testing, such as a psycho-educational test. Parents may need to look outside the high school for this.
Transition Plans also include practical steps that the school will initiate with the student, including community integration. The school may suggest, for example, that the student volunteer in the community to gain experience outside of the school environment. TPs also help students match their strengths and interests with realistic career options—and can include a plan on preparing a teen to tackle such basic tasks as personal grooming and hygiene, shopping, and banking. We might not associate these skills with school, but they are vital for students with more severe forms of LD.
Time for Your Teen to Step Up
Once a student leaves the public education system after twelfth grade, there is no IEP—the responsibility for requesting and arranging for services falls completely on your young adult. If students need documentation of a learning disability, it is now up to them to get it. This means that students should take ownership of their high school IEP. Parents can help with this by suggesting they ask the following questions:
- What is contained in my IEP?
- How has this made a discernible impact on the quality of my life in high school?
- What do I need to do during this transition time to preserve the benefits provided by my IEP until I graduate?
- How do I arrange for the same type of support when I leave high school and head off to college, work, or a combination of both?
Sounds like a plan. But how is a parent supposed to get a rowdy teenager to focus on these questions? “Together with the school personnel, parents need to initiate an honest and ongoing dialogue with their child, ideally during the middle-school years, but surely no later than tenth or eleventh grade,” says Dr. Sheldon Horowitz, of the National Center of Learning Disabilities.
“Begin by setting the stage for the conversation, provide some background about the importance of the IEP during the K–12 school years, and let your child know how important it is for him to play an increasingly active role in arranging for the services and support he needs in order to succeed.”
“Going over every detail in the IEP is not necessary and, for some students, might be boring or even intrusive,” continues Horowitz. “On the other hand, you should not make any assumptions about the student’s interest in these details. In fact, some students are relieved to see ‘proof’ of their struggles as reflected in their IEP.”
Long-Term Benefits of an IEP
All students with LD can benefit from understanding their IEP, no matter what their eventual goals. If the IEP indicates weak math skills, these weaknesses will carry over into life after high school, whether the student goes to college or directly into a job. For instance, your son doesn’t leave LD behind when he heads to the bank or goes bowling. He has to keep score. He has a hundred things he does every day that can be affected by his skills—or lack thereof.
Transitioning into young adulthood also presents challenges for parents. Rules, regulations, legal language, acronyms you have never heard of, and long strings of numbers referring to bills and laws all conspire to leave you feeling more lost and confused than ever. But take heart. Teachers and administrators, and especially LD and vocational counselors, are there to help you.
Don’t expect, or try, to do it alone.
Remember that you are also in a state of transition, and your child is not the only one facing an uncertain future. Your job now is to help in any way you can and to make sure you do not become an obstacle to independence. It is all too easy for parents to foster “learned helplessness” in their children. This transition for your child is a good time to shift your intense day-to-day focus to the broader view of helping your young adult child as he or she takes the first steps along the path to independence.
Adapted with permission from On Their Own: Creating an Independent Future for Your Adult Child with Learning Disabilities and ADHD. © 2007 Anne Ford. All rights reserved. Published by Newmarket Press, 18 East 48th Street, New York, New York 10017. www.newmarketpress.com.
This article comes from the October/November 2007 issue of ADDitude.