I will make a bold statement here, knowing that many factors can effect the outcome of this IEP over a year's time: Jason has ended up with a best-case scenario.
Let this process, approached in a spirit of cooperation by the school staff and administration as well as my wife and I, serve as a guide for how these things should unfold.
It started a couple of months ago, with an IEP meeting intended to set the IEP goals. While my wife and I were urgently wanting to move on to the discussion of placement (mainstream or Special Ed, classroom aide involvement, etc), the administrator who headed the process would not allow the meeting to broach that topic. It was explained carefully and concisely that the content of that meeting was to consist of just one thing: IEP goals. We protested this, based on the idea that goals cannot be accurately set without knowing what learning environment our son was to be placed in. Instead of derailing the entire meeting, though, we simply asked that our objection be recorded in the IEP notes and allowed the meeting to move forward productively.
Numerous goals were recommended, discussed, and agreed upon. We left that meeting knowing that the goals were good, but not knowing how they would be achieved.
We then got to work on determining how best to make a case that Jason can succeed in a mainstream classroom with the help of a full-time Classroom Aide trained in topics related to Autism. Here is how the logic flows:
Jason, under LRE (Least Restrictive Environment), has the right to be educated in a mainstream classroom if he is academically and behaviorally up to the task. We know that he is.
Jason, once "accepted" into the mainstream classroom, must be provided whatever learning supports he requires to successfully complete the academic requirements of the grade level (in this case, Kindergarten).
The district is required, under FAPE (Free and Appropriate Education), to provide Jason the minimum level of service required for the "success" criterion (completing the grade-level requirements) - no more, no less.
Thus, the burden was on us to "prove" to the school that Jason needed SLT and OT, and most importantly (and expensive to the district) a full-time aide. The district had already stated that Jason should/would continue to receive SLT and OT services. This left the all-important aide issue.
We did this by focusing on three areas where Jason needs support:
- Meeting his IEP goals: Since the goals had already been agreed upon by the IEP Team, we demonstrated that the goals could not be met without the support of an aide.
- Successfully Completing Curriculum: Since Jason requires such basic supports a help gripping a pencil properly, and responding to multi-step verbal instructions, he will need ongoing support from an aide to complete his classwork.
- Succeeding in Classroom Behavior: Jason is not the type to spontaneously engage his peers, nor is he likely to easily adapt to classroom rules and expected behaviors. Oh, sure he can do it, but not without some help along the way. For this purpose, and aide is also required.
Having listened to our case, the district agreed that our submitted reasons were sufficient justification to hire (or assign) a full-time Classroom Aide for Jason next year. Without our working knowledge of the IEP process and its associated legal guidelines and student rights, without a proactive and student-oriented school staff and administration, without full cooperation among everyone involved in the process, this outcome could not have been achieved - at least not without much rancor and debate.
Special thanks go to Grandma and Poppa for watching the boys and taking Jason to his horseback riding session while we conducted the meeting.
I must end this post now, as my wife and I need to go do the "IEP Victory Dance".