Silly question? Perhaps.

Reflect on your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) along with the services that are in that IEP. Now, ask yourself which of those you would be willing to give up. Seri­ously, what kind of a question is that, right? You’re not willing to give up anything. Okay, which would you give up for something else? Farfetched ques­tions? Not so much if you enter a meeting thinking IEPs should be negotiated. For example, if you have ever thought of something similar to “If I don’t get adaptive Physical Education (PE), I will go for more hours of speech therapy,” you are thinking in terms of negotiating away some of your child’s services. Why would you be willing to do that to your child? Look at how an IEP meeting might proceed.

Assuming Best Case Scenarios

Let’s assume that the IEP team—including yourself of course—has agreed to your child’s present levels of academic and functional performance based on a review of all available and current information. The team has also identified and agreed that each of your child’s needs are to be addressed in the IEP. So where is the twist? It’s coming.

Assume that the goals are then written with near per­fection. That is, the team identified those behaviors (e.g., social or academic, motoric, etc.) to be impacted through implementation of the IEP. The goals includ­ed clearly state conditions under which the behaviors are to be observed (e.g., when given a fifth grade text of 225 words, within 13 minutes, etc.). Lastly, the goals are stated in easy to understand measurable terms (e.g., with no more than 2 word errors, 70% of requests, with 80% accuracy, etc.). So what’s the big deal? Almost there.

The next steps are to determine which services will be provided, the time and frequency of each, and where they are to be delivered. Thinking about your child’s present (and past) needs and rate of progress, you conclude your child requires more speech and language services than in the past. Staff, however, feels it is not necessary. You insist that services be increased, but the staff says it isn’t possible. You nevertheless counter that there has been limited progress made over the course of the year in the area of language development. A review of the data sup­ports your position and staff offers additional time with the Speech Language Pathologist, but, states a need to reduce the time of adaptive PE. You think, “I got the extra Speech and Language time!” and accept the counter offer.

Realization Sets In

An hour after the meeting ends you realize–yes, there it is—you gave away a service previously determined to be necessary to achieve one of your child’s goals. You had negotiated away one of your child’s needs. In case you’re thinking this does not happen, it does. But, this can be circumvented by throwing out the idea that IEP meetings are built on the premise that you and the school are meeting to negotiate the de­velopment of the IEP and services your child requires.

What Should Be Done?

What should be implemented is called the Structured Collaborative IEP Process. This process poses six key questions to the team that will facilitate collaboration through group problem solving.

The questions are:

  • What do we know? Where are we?
  • Where do we want to go? What is it we want to accomplish?
  • How will we get there? What do we need to get there?
  • How will we know that we are getting there?
  • How do we know when we have arrived?
  • How do we keep what we have?

By following the structure put in place by the IEP document itself, a plan can be devised that includes all that a child’s needs require. For example, the Pres­ent Level of Performance should be written in such a way that the challenges and strengths of the child are clearly documented. Goals are then developed in line with those documented needs and subsequently, services given that will allow those goals to become a reality. Accommodations and supplementary aids no longer become such a challenge to obtain when the needs that support them are documented in the Pres­ent Level of Performance.

The practice of negotiating is unnecessary, as the evidence from which to base the decision (i.e. what services are to be provided) has already been established and agreed upon when the full IEP team identified your child’s needs and wrote goals address­ing those needs.

What happens if the school insists on re­ducing services as a part of a “bargain?”

If you have an IEP that truly describes your child’s needs, and goals written to target those needs, you have become an advocate’s dream. Why? Because you have the documentation to support the services required, based on available data and measurable goals that require certain services in order to be fully implemented. The decision made by any third party reviewer would be to hold the school responsible for the provision of all services needed by your child… Exactly as it should be.


Autism Notebook Aug/Sept 2013

Vaughn Lauer, Ph.D

Author of the book When the School Says No...How to Get the Yes! and Global Presence Ambassador

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