Monday, May 6, 2013

Why are Parents Afraid of the "IEP"

I was going over papers, talking to the school nurse and Nick's teacher in preparation for my son's Tri-annual IEP last week, when I was asked "You seem anxious, what's an IEP?"  I'm so used to being anxious I didn't notice, but she was right. Before I knew it I was telling her this story.  

IEP stands for Individual Education Plan and it strikes fear in the hearts of many parents. The terms Tri-annual IEP and Transition IEP can be even more anxiety provoking because experts - which can include people you and your child have never met - evaluate your child  to provide critical information that is used to determine services. IEP's are created in meetings where a students educational team and parents come together to review a students individualized educational needs to determine what has worked, what's not working and what would be best moving forward. It sounds good and sometimes it does goes well. Sometimes the entire team agrees on a plan of class's, transportation, supports and services to move a student forward.

"Why are parents anxious about IEP's; in short how would you feel knowing that the success of a critical part of your life or your child's was going to be decided by a committee, which may include strangers, on an annual basis? Hummm, I'm just sayin :)."

Parents are afraid of IEP meeting because they offer up a frightening annual opportunity to learn how many different opinions a group of adults can  have about what best serves a child.  All the education support services a student will keep, gain and loose in the next school year are at the mercy of the the IEP participants, who may or may not know anything about your child. From diagnosis (which determines eligibility for services), school placement, educational goals, classroom placement, behavior plants, behavior support, speech, OT, APT, behavior plans, transportation, are all of the table for renegotiation once a year! Not hard to see why parents feel a little anxiety around the process!

IEP's always have an element of the unknown, as different agendas, levels of knowledge, belief systems come into play and in the event of a disagreement the school districts typically have more resources to gain the upper hand in a dispute. Visions of David and Golliath have been known to come to mind for many a parent. For example; two weeks before one of Nicky's IEPs, an aid told me "People have visited his class from the district and one told me they were trying to see if Nicky no longer needed a behaviorist because he had good grades". Yikes, there went any calm I was holding on to!!! Really, good grades??. If this statement was accurate or not - which I will never know - it is an example of what happens in schools and our communities when people, even teachers and principles, have deep misconceptions about autism. There is still a great deal of confusion about behavior and intelligence in people diagnosed with ASD. For example some people think a person with autism who has normal intelligence can rely on their intellect to turn off and on any inappropriate behaviors they have associated with their diagnosis, or that autism does not mean unable to learn. Or in this case,  when behaviors improve due to intervention, and the success of behavior intervention is not necessarily proof that the support is no longer needed, rather it's probably proof that is is needed and working!

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