Two IEP Fixes That Will Turn Your Child’s Life Around
How to make sure teachers really get your child during a special ed meeting.
My son, Ricochet, struggles a lot in school. He always has, but middle school this year magnified his academic struggles. With ADHD, autism, dysgraphia, and executive function deficits, significant school struggles are to be expected. What was tripping us up, though, was the fact that his high IQ led teachers and administrators to believe that he was capable of success, but that he chose to be lazy. Twice-exceptionality is misunderstood in the public school system, and our experience has been no exception.
So here we were in the middle of the seventh grade school year and Ricochet’s grades were plummeting. He was constantly losing papers, his agenda, and failing tests because he didn’t have notes to study. The wild thing was he had an IEP with goals for writing and planning/organization. The problem was that he was misunderstood, which caused teachers to not see a need to implement his IEP.
I’ve been fighting for years with teachers to understand my boy. Again, twice-exceptionality makes it tough. This school year was no different, except that now I had six teachers to convince instead of one or two.
I was fed up after several months of pleading and begging, so I requested a Functional Behavior Analysis (FBA) to address school refusal and avoidance, and an IEP meeting to implement the FBA results and to update his IEP to address his current middle school struggles.
It took a couple months to get to the IEP meeting. In that time, I scoured the Internet for advice on what to do when the school isn’t implementing your child’s IEP, but you don’t have the resources to file due process and take them to court.
I happened upon the website, A Day in Our Shoes, and an article about how to get a para-pro for your child (I know my son could really use a para-pro, but I have never been successful in getting that request filled, so I was curious to read the article). While I wasn’t directly requesting a para-pro, the article offered a golden nugget of wisdom for all IEP meetings that I hadn’t heard before-to make sure you write a Parent Concerns Letter, submit it to the school before the IEP meeting, and make sure it is copied in the parent concerns section of the IEP during the meeting.
When I sat down to draft my Parent Concerns Letter, it was cathartic, and also gratifying to be able to send my concerns in an official and documented way. I came up with a long list of concerns. In addition, I copied and pasted in supporting documentation from Ricochet’s prior evaluations for each concern. I hoped this tactic would help teachers understand him better, since I knew they weren’t reading his entire file, and the five or six different evaluations in it, to get a complete picture of his needs.
I had a concern that he was being asked to write work by hand, despite an IEP goal to the contrary. With that concern, I copied and pasted in a section of a private evaluation done four years ago in which the psychologist explained dysgraphia, how it impacts Ricochet, and suggested typing his work and being taught to type. That way, the services and accommodations he needs weren’t coming from his mom who they “can tell really loves him” (yep, that was said to me in an IEP meeting once), but from a professional.
The second document I drafted was Present Levels of Performance. This is another section of the IEP that is often completed by the team during the meeting or by the special ed teacher beforehand. I wanted to do my own Present Levels of Performance, in addition to my Parent Concerns Letter, because my perspective was different from the educators but often not included. This document should be about more than grades and test scores.
In this second document, I put his current grades as of the midterm that came out the week before (including the two D’s). I noted what had been done to implement his IEP, and if it was failing or helping. The special ed teacher had come up with a new organization system that wasn’t any better than the previous one. I wanted that noted so we could move on to use assistive technology. I also noted performance in areas like behavior, social skills, and anxiety, because they are important factors in academic success.
I emailed these two documents to the IEP team three days before the meeting. Once I arrived at the meeting, there had been a lot of discussion in the special ed department, as well as with his teachers, on how to best address his present performance weaknesses and my concerns. Both documents had already been copied into the IEP and they had added another goal and assistive technology to address my submission.
I still felt a great deal of tension from some of the regular education teachers during the meeting — usually only one attends but I requested that they all attend so they could understand Ricochet better — but I also felt as if I was being heard by the majority of the team.
I’m cautiously optimistic. This year’s IEP team has listened to my concerns in IEP meetings and added anything I asked for to his IEP, but implementation has been sorely lacking. Seeing implementation will be the last test to see if I was truly heard.