Saturday, May 12, 2007

Best-Case Scenario

Yesterday, we completed the two-month process of establishing Jason's IEP for the upcoming school year.
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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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".


Niksmom said...

WOW! Congrats, that's awesome! Sure wish Nik's school was that accommodting even of the IEP's like pulling teeth in our district. As we are gearing up for a similar fight —LRE, one-on-one para/aide, *increased* services in Nik's case —I will take some lessons from your experience. We've been learning tons about the whole process and now that we are embarking upon our second one, we feel like we are so much better prepared. Hopefully, I too can post such a victory!
Dance, dance, dance! :-)

mcewen said...

Well done. What an achievement. It certainly seems to be the case that 'district' policy varies so much from State to State. [budget to budget?]
Best wishes

Club 166 said...

Good for you!

We have found that not only does district policy vary from district to district within the same state, but also from school to school. We had a much better experience this year in a different school in the same district, than we had last year.

Joeymom said...

CONGRATULATIONS!!!! What great work, and I hope it works ou brilliantly for your little guy! Having proactive school folks must be SO nice. Here's to a great kindergarden year!!!

Anonymous said...

That sounds great! We have had a good experience with our school district so far as well -- with a little bit of urging and pressure applied, of course.
Where does your son take horseback lessons? We have been told there is a 6 month wait at the HW center in Rancho Santa Fe.
Terry H.

Steve D said...

Terry -
Yuo are local to San Diego County? We take our son to R.E.I.N.S. in Fallbrook. They claim to be the "happiest place in the world" - and I think they are right. they work with people of all ages and all forms of injuries and disabilities. They are wonderful in every way - a very neat community of people. My son has ridden for almost two years now - a couple of weeks ago he guided the horse by himself around the riding pen. One of the workers was right there, but he did it himself. Very cool. I think he was very excited about it, but its kind of hard to tell as he does not always express it outwardly.

Anonymous said...

We are in Del Mar. I learned about your blog from a mutual friend. Unfortunately, Fallbrook is quite the long hall for us. There must be somebody closer who does the same thing.
Terry H.

Steve D said...

Be sure to thank our mutual friend for me, Terry :)
Yes, Del Mar is a long way from Fallbrook. If I hear of anything down your way, I'll post the info here.