Keeping the “I” in IEP’s
My seven year old son, Jackson, was identified with severe/profound bilateral hearing loss at birth and my 19 year old son, Nicholas, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in the second grade. Given my “pleasure” of dealing with Individual Education Plans for over 13 years, one might think I have this whole thing down pat. To the contrary, I still find myself experiencing “duh” moments when it comes to considerations shared with me when writing an IEP for one of “our kids.” With that in mind, I would like to share the following information, whether it is a refresher for some or important and new information to consider for others.
All IEPs must include the following:
The child’s Present Educational Level. This includes a child’s strengths and weaknesses and should measurably describe the student’s skills, such as math and reading levels. It should also include test scores and what they mean. Parents can and should share observations from home and community, including how much assistance a child needs with homework or information missing in noisy situations.
The child’s Goals and Objectives. Goals are broad statements that describe what a student can reasonably be expected to accomplish over the course of the IEP. Objectives are measurable intermediate steps leading to the attainment of the goals. Goals should be designed to create a year’s progress within a year’s time, in general.
Specially Designed Instruction that is based on the child’s strengths and weaknesses. This part of the IEP is what puts the “special” into special education. It should focus on how the child learns best. To refer back to the federal law, Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child…the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction… to address the unique needs of the child… to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum.
According to Kathleen Arnoldi, one of the authors of Building Skills for Success in the Fast-Paced Classroom, “When discussing the development of an IEP for a student with hearing loss, the following areas should be considered in addition to traditional domains of academic progress, speech language development, motor skills, transition needs, etc.: :
Speech Audibility: Under typical classroom conditions, how does the student understand speech in noisy and quiet situations? What accommodations, technology and/or supports does he need to access instruction?
Speech Perception and Listening Skills: What is the student’s range of speech perception under typical classroom listening conditions? What is her level of listening skill development and how does each deficit area impact her academic achievement?
Self-Concept: How would you rate the student’s self-concept? Can he describe his hearing loss and explain its impact on social situations? What are peer relationships like? For example, is the student passive or assertive in getting his needs met?
Self-Advocacy: Can the student maintain her amplification adequately? Does she transfer the transmitter as needed? Does she use the FM or aid consistently? Can she answer questions about its use? Can she describe her needs for accommodations and strategies she can use to address his hearing needs? Does she seat herself appropriately? Does she use mediated communication services effectively (interpreter, transliterator, notetaker, captionist, etc.)?
Social and Communicational Competence: Does the student demonstrate pride in accomplishments? Know how to handle defeat, disciplinary action, negative comments, bullying? Establish friendships? Initiate conversations? Maintain topics? Give-and-take in conversation?
Communication Repair: Does the student recognize when he is missing information? Ask for repetition or clarification when he doesn’t understand? Clarify communication? How does the student’s level of skill development in this area impact achievement?
Access to Instruction: How does the student handle questions posed by the teacher during typical instruction? Does she understand various forms of figurative language, including idiomatic expressions used in conversation, instruction and in grade-level reading materials? Can she follow multi-part directions in both oral and written formats? Does she comprehend the print posted in the classroom and school environment? Can she comprehend grade-level texts adequately enough to access critical content? Is she able to fully participate in classroom rituals and routines? Can she demonstrate knowledge using typical testing procedures?
Special Factors: The IEP team is required by IDEA to consider special factors for students with hearing loss related to the child’s language and communication needs, ensuring that the student be provided with opportunities for direct communication with peers and professionals and instruction in his or her communication mode at his or her language and academic level. The need for assistive technology devices and services must also be considered in this context. If your state has a legislated Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights, this is included in the Communication Plan section. If not, the special factors still need to be discussed, though it may be up to a savvy parent to know this part of the law.
The IEP also needs to include any accommodations or modifications the child needs to succeed. Parents and teachers can find an extremely helpful, detailed IEP Checklist with recommended accommodations and modifications for students with hearing loss at http://www.handsandvoices.org/pdf/IEP_Checklist.pdf
While learning to be an advocate for your child in the IEP arena can seem intimidating, frustrating and never-ending at times, I like to think of it as just another skill that I may have never had the opportunity to learn if I had not blessed with such beautifully unique children. We also need to keep our eyes on the prize; eventually our kids need to be able to advocate for themselves beyond the classroom and into the world at large.