Creating the Individualized Education Program
The initial IEP meeting is the time and place to develop the document that will be the blueprint for your child's educators. The draft document should be transcribed into the final document immediately after the meeting. It should include:
A cover sheet with a sign-in page listing all participants
An acknowledgment of your child's eligibility
An area for you to sign, acknowledging that the school district has provided you with a copy of your rights during the process, known as “procedural safeguards”
Basic information such as your contact numbers and address, your child's date of birth, and anticipated year of graduation
A list of “special considerations,” such as visual or hearing impairment, behaviors that impede your child's ability to learn (or that of classmates), and communication issues
A summary of your child's strengths (his passions and interests)
A summary of your child's needs (those areas in which he requires special support)
A strong IEP team should be able to find a balance between your child's strengths and needs. Too often, such meetings can focus upon issues that others may perceive as “behavioral” or emotional disturbances. When this occurs, teams get sidetracked and lose their focus. Teams may digress and deteriorate. Parents may leave feeling angry or upset, and the self-fulfilling prophecy is perpetuated. For this reason, and particularly in very sensitive situations, it is advisable to have a professional in attendance who fits the bill of “other participants with special expertise or knowledge of your child.” In partnership with the team, this person can help keep things focused on your child as a child first and foremost.
The next step is to set IEP goals that are specific to your child's strengths and needs in order to track your child's educational progress and ensure that the team is implementing what it committed to doing. The goals should be realistically achievable for your child and written in such a way that they are easy to track or “measure,” in order to see your child's growth and keep the team accountable. For example, an appropriate goal for a kid with Asperger's of any age might be in the area of developing computer skills (if she's not already a computer wizard). While this may sound rather generic, the spin here is to make it specific to your child's Asperger's. The purpose of the goal should be clearly stated, such as a goal for accessing the Internet: “The student will develop skills to use a computer to communicate, to gain information, and to increase social relationships independently three out of five times.” Next, objectives to meet the goal should be identified in sequence. The sequence for the computer goal might look like this:
The student will learn the functions of the computer, including turning the computer on, signing on to the Internet, and using the keyboard and other functions while exploring her passions (such as searching for information about insects as they relate to a lesson plan).
The student will create and access a file and store information she wishes to save in the file.
The student will learn methods to access social interaction through electronic media (e-mail).
Consistency in communication of your child's needs from school year to school year is imperative. Don't take for granted that strategies, adaptations, and accommodations discussed but not recorded in your child's IEP will be carried over unless they are clearly documented.
This ensures accountability as well as consistent support. A method and schedule of evaluation for each goal objective should also be included. For example, the method for the last objective listed might read, “During computer learning opportunities, the student will be afforded opportunity to increase social interactions by learning to use e-mail and other communication avenues.” A goal for enhancing self-advocacy might address your child's ability to identify and communicate her sensory sensitivities in the school environment. A goal or objective might read, “The student will be able to communicate in a socially acceptable manner the specific change she requires in her educational environment four out of five times.” The method should include supporting the child to identify environmental stimuli that are irritants and detract from learning.
Modifications of Programs
The IEP should also list “program modifications and specially designed instruction” that may include elements incorporated into goal areas, which team members should bear in mind. Such a useful list may include examples like:
Limit or eliminate visual and auditory stimulation and distractions in the learning setting.
Explain directions clearly, in steps and with visual representations.
Allow extended wait time and processing time.
Use photo depictions where possible instead of cartoons or drawings.
Provide advance notice of schedule and special situations.
Be consistent with the expectations established for the student.
Provide an individual, weekly schedule to follow.
The IEP document will also indicate the projected date for implementation of services, the anticipated duration of services, and any revision dates. Specifications addressing how the school district intends to report IEP goal progress should be clearly stated. There must also be a statement reflecting why your child's current educational placement represents an inclusive environment as fully as possible (called “least restrictive environment”) as opposed to an alternative placement.