As parents of a special needs child, we want and need to believe that our child’s IEP is a sound representation of the child’s academic, social, and emotional needs because we are told so by the experts. It took us a few years before we as parents realized IEP problems.
Our son is in 4th grade. His IEP placed him in a self contained Mild Intellectual Disability (MID) class, the environment which the school considers best for our son’s needs. As any parent of an IEP child can attest, we have spent a great deal of time reviewing his IEP and working with him at home. A few years ago when we first started the IEP process, it was a “feel good situation,” and we felt our son’s needs were surely being met. Over the years, however, we’ve noticed his academic growth has been slipping. Now he is at a point where we are concerned he will never be able to catch up The IEP team at his school seems okay with this. We believe that our social and academic expectations for our son and his individual needs are realistic but are very different from what the school expects.
At our last of many IEP meetings, everyone in attendance was kind, comforting, and assured us that the plans presented in the IEP would help our son. We, like so many parents, tried to listen and learn the lingo, spoken at a quick pace, but no matter how hard we tried, it was challenging, confusing, and a source of stress. We were quickly losing confidence in the school’s ability to truly meet the specific needs of our son. It seemed they were repeating the same phrases and their explanations and plans were insufficient. They were perpetuating the IEP problems. Were they even capable of helping our child? We knew something wasn’t ‘right’ but we couldn’t isolate the problem.
Richard Kaplan’s name was very familiar to us after years in the special needs community. Parents who are his clients consistently recommend him as incredibly skilled with a unique ability to identify learning problems and to teach strategies that really work. So, armed with our latest IEP, psychological evaluations, a large stack of work samples, and our son, we went to our scheduled appointment.
Richard listened and read our child’s IEP. Truthfully, we knew immediately that he would help us. He leaned back in his chair, took his time (took his time!), and when he finally spoke, he spoke with simple words that made practical sense. He identified teaching strategies from the IEP that do not work for our son and replaced them with strategies, accommodations, and school placements that would work. He was even able to create a timeline consisting of sequential educational and social goals that would help our son catch up, which he needed to do due to IEP failure.
“This IEP contains no justification for your child to be in a MID environment. Other IEP problems was pointed out, he should be in the least restrictive environment, not the most restrictive environment the school has to offer. His social, emotional, and academic growth is being suppressed.”
With those words, I felt relief. He was right, he understood! And, finally, someone was on our side advocating to help our child. Our expectations about our son were correct.
His observations continued. He asked if we had provided any parental concerns to the school. Of course we had. So Richard pointed out something to us that we hadn’t even noticed: the “parental concerns regarding their child” section was left completely blank. How could the school fail to document any of our concerns that we’ve called, emailed, and met in person about?
Richard shared with us valuable findings from the goals and objectives section. Our son had eight goals. Richard picked the first goal created by the school, which was for our son to write a paragraph. He pulled out several writing samples and pointed out to us that our son could only produce a three word sentences. How was he going to write a paragraph? The system may want him to go from a 3-word sentence to a paragraph, but our son isn’t being guided and taught to do so. Our son was being permanently doomed to be significantly behind in school with no academic support. Instead of teaching him, the school’s IEP is actually slowing down his intellectual and academic progress.
Before continuing our review of the IEP, Richard noticing my tears as an overwhelmed mom. He pointed out that every IEP meeting is a call to action for us, as parents. He said he wanted us to grab this opportunity and successfully advocate for a truly helpful IEP. These words have stayed with me and help me stay focused on helping my son.
The meeting with Richard continued that day with so many applicable solutions that we set in place. The overlying advice that I keep coming back to is that we, as parents, need to feel empowered to speak up and make sure the IEP fits our child’s needs. Richard taught us that a good IEP has to be a superior, accurate, insightful document tailored specifically for the child’s own strengths and weaknesses. After all, the IEP sets our child on a path for the rest of his life. With Richard Kaplan’s matter-of-fact guidance and passion for helping families just like mine, we are now more aware of how our child’s IEP sets the framework for his success. We now know being effective advocates for our son is in his best interest.