Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Preparing to Enter Preschool Special Education: The IEP Meeting and Ellie's first day

This is the bus Ellie rode to school today!

Over the past few weeks I have chronicled our experiences leading up to the big IEP meeting.  Those previous posts can be read here and here.  I have since learned through both Facebook and blogging comments that every parent looking into the special education system should receive the results of their child's assessment by the school district in writing.  However, many of you have reported receiving no results until the actual IEP meeting or you have received a phone call prior to the IEP meeting.  I suppose a phone call is better than silence, but there is something to be said about seeing it in black and white.  Please know that it is your right as the parent to receive your child's assessment results prior to sitting down at the IEP meeting.  This allows you to 1. digest the labels and percentages that are assigned to your child's development and 2. prepare some goals that you would like to see addressed throughout your child's school year.  Andrew and I were very happy with our school district in that they consistently emailed us updated information about the assessment as well as their recommended goals that they would liked to be considered by the IEP committee.

Disclaimer: remember that this is our first experience with the school district and we are truly novices when it comes to navigating the special education school system.  We are still learning the system. Every state is different in its rules and regulations. Advice and sharing your experiences are always appreciated in the comments section!

I really don't know about this school nonsense.

Last Wednesday, Andrew and I attended the IEP meeting at the local elementary school.  Present during this meeting was our ECI therapist (J), the school's speech therapist, the school's special education teacher, as well as the diagnostician/pediatric psychologist that evaluated Ellie.  It should be noted that two of the people present never met Ellie.  These two people are blindly creating a school year plan for a child that they never met.  They are solely dependent upon the documented observations and recommended goals by those who carefully assessed Ellie a few weeks ago.  They also reviewed our private therapy notes (Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy [ABA] and speech therapy [ST]) as well as a detailed visit note from Ellie's developmental pediatrician (Dr. F).  This was a rather scary concept for me--People deciding the educational fate of my little soon-to-be 3 year-old by looking at pieces of paper.  More on that later!

Here are a few tips that I received from, quite honestly, the internet and from fellow colleagues who have traveled this windy path before us:

1. Dress up.  This means no shorts or hoochie-mama tops.  I wanted to be perceived as a serious member of the IEP team and as such wore nice pants, a nice shirt, and make-up.  Andrew wore a polo shirt rather than his BBQ/Mexican food T-shirt "uniform".  That is what us parents are--members of a team.

It can feel this way on both ends.

2. Treat the members of the team with respect.  They work very hard.  They are highly trained professionals and they truly do want what is best for your child.  They are not out to get you.  I know many people in the special education field.  Ellie's babysitter is currently in school for Spec Ed and her passion is contagious.  They chose this career path because they truly believe our children can do wonderful things and because they want them to succeed.  I do know that people burn out and become jaded by the system, but I honestly believe all involved want our children to succeed.  We may not agree with their approach or their recommendations and that is okay, but we still owe respect.  It isn't always the parents who are afraid of the IEP meetings.  No one wants a battle.

3. That being said, YOU know your child best.  How she best learns and what her true strengths and weaknesses are.  They only captured a snapshot of your child through the assessment or through a piece of paper.  If you do not agree with something or you feel like they did not get a clear understanding of your child, be sure explain, educate, and give examples.

4. Bring photographs of your child.  It is helpful to everyone to place a face with a name.  I brought in pictures of Ellie doing things that she loves--working on her shape sorter, feeding herself with a spoon (very messy!), and playing with her baby doll.  Plus, I brought in a picture of Ellie looking all sweet and innocent.  Remember, she hyperactive, sassy, and sensory driven.  It all looks scary on paper--"this child is TROUBLE!" so the innocent pic helped in my humble opinion.  (Remember, I mentioned that two of the people present in our IEP meeting never laid eyes on my little angel.)

I brought this photograph with me because Ellie looks lovely and sweet.
I contemplated on bringing this photo collage because it demonstrates Ellie's amazing spoon feeding skills.  However, it also screams "I like to torment my caregivers with my naughty antics".

5. Bring in all reports concerning your child--the reports from the school district's assessments, summaries from individual therapists, and doctor's notes (i.e. Dr. F from developmental peds).  Even though you supply these notes for the assessment, it cannot be assumed that the people actually read them.  We were fortunate because there were direct quotations from Dr. F in Ellie's school district assessment.  That being said, the speech therapist had no idea that Ellie's speech therapist was using the Kaufman Method.  When I brought it up, she made the note to continue using this method with Ellie during her speech sessions at school.

6. Bring tons of paper for taking notes and extra pens.  Wouldn't you know that during a very important meeting your pen decides to boycott writing.

7. For Ellie's teacher, I supplied a list of Ellie's signs as well as an "All About Me" sheet.
The above ended up being very important.  You see, Ellie knows over 70 signs.  Okay, they are VERY  gross approximations and for many of the signs, only Andrew and I would understand them.  However, during the assessment, Ellie only signed 3 words.  This led the assessment team to score Ellie lower on the communication scale.  Since they now know that Ellie does communication primarily with signs, they are going to work on pairing two signs together as well as words/sounds with signs.

Oh my.  I hope Ms. K is ready for this.

8. COOKIES!  I firmly believe that IEPs are stressful for everyone involved.  Not just the parents.  Our IEP meeting took place in the afternoon.  This was after the teacher and speech therapist had a full morning of teaching 3-5 year-olds and therapy.  Everyone could use some yummy, deletable treats, aka a sugar-fix.

9. This is perhaps what I had the hardest time wrapping my brain around.  Ellie is developmentally behind in fine motor, communication, social skills, cognitive skills, and self help.  Even with all of her climbing and monkey business, she is behind in gross motor skills in that she cannot jump or alternate feet on the stairs, etc.  This led me to believe that she would qualify for ST, OT, and PT.  However, the school focuses on academia.  This means that the goals are based on areas that she cannot function well in for school, rather than development.  Can she walk?  Yes.  Therefore she does not need PT.  Can she hold a writing utensil?  Yes, albeit not correctly and not without eating it.  Then she does not receive OT.  Their goals are all about preparing Ellie to be successful in school.

10. Perhaps most importantly, you do have 10 days to sign your IEP.  Actually, you do not have to sign it at all if you do not agree with it.  However, note that your child will not be able to start school until an active IEP is in place.

11. See above and STRONGLY consider not signing the IEP the day of your meeting.  The IEP is a living and breathing document.  It should not be typed up ahead of time because, as I have mentioned above, we are a team formulating goals that best suit each child individually.  The diagnostician typed up Ellie's IEP during the meeting.  Yes, there was a vague outline already available prior to the meeting (this is what I received via email a few days before the meeting), but changes and modifications were made during the meeting.  These changes were typed into the computer.  However, upon the end of the meeting, Andrew and I were strongly encouraged to agree without seeing a written print-out of Ellie's IEP.  We refused to sign until we could see the IEP in black and white.

12. Review a written copy of the IEP before signing.  I waited 1.5 days before being able to review the IEP.  I did find a few errors.  They were minor, BUT these are my daughter's goals and I want them enforced.  If the goals are not listed correctly in the IEP, I have no grounds to say "I notice that Miss xxx is not working on xyz with Ellie."  If it is not in the IEP, it does not have to be worked on.  Ellie's IEP has since then been corrected within the system and I have signed it.  The Ellie Bear starts school on Monday bright and early.  I will cry.  Her backpack is bigger than her!

Here are a few examples of Ellie's goals.  Many focus on communication as well as increasing Ellie's attention span.

Ellie will imitate 10 one-word labels or word approximations during 3 out of 4 speech therapy sessions.

Ellie will follow basic one-step commands such as "come, stand, sit, no, stop" in the classroom therapy settings during 3 our of 4 days.

Ellie will attend to and participate in large group activities (i.e. circle time, story time) for 5 minutes with 3 or less prompts, 3 out of 4 opportunities

Ellie will listen to a book being read for 3 minutes in a 1-1 setting with 3 or less prompts, 3 out of 4 opportunities.

Ellie will imitate drawing horizontal and vertical lines, and circles with 2 or less prompts, 3 out of 4 opportunities.

During this meeting, I discovered that the speech therapist is trained in both PROMPT and in the Kaufman Method  This is rather exciting because I had been looking for a therapist (and failed to find one) who is trained in the PROMPT method.  Also, in using the Kaufman Method, the school's therapist will continue the type of approach that Ellie's private therapist is using.  I am very hopeful that great things lie ahead this school year!

Ellie's thoughts on riding the bus.

Finally, I would like to share with you other reader's comments and recommendations for attending an IEP meeting.  Some of these parents have walked this path for many years and some of these parents work within the special education system.  Please feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments section.

J: Make sure you take lots of notes, ask lots of questions, and research everything you do not understand before agreeing to any terms.  My biggest mistake looking back on all IEPs I have attended both for my children and my students is not taking enough notes and then following up on them to make sure everything was done that had been discussed.

J: not necessarily an IEP suggestion, but a great tool is to create a people first pamphlet kind of like a brochure that has pictures, and pertinent information about Ellie to hand out to each of her team, plus other school people like librarian, office, cafeteria, playground etc.

T: Make a list of what YOU need to talk about. Questions and expectations. Star the things you are willing to fight for...bullet the things that would make you happy...leave the rest "gravy"...You can also TABLE the meeting, or call it off before it is ended, and decline to sign, if you feel like you are being bullied, and you want either your husband, a friend, or a legal advocate to join you...Or if you even just want to research and revisit the IEP, AND, it is not stone, even if you sign, you can call an IEP meeting next week, if you want

S: I would bring a little write up about Ellie - what her strengths are; her areas that you would like to see grow this next year. You may even bring a little write up with a few pictures on it for them to remember her by:)

J: My biggest suggestion is more for her future since she has not been in the system long - do not let them reduce or remove services (such as OT, PT, speech, etc) unless you completely agree. The school pulled OT for Z in 3rd grade & I never should have allowed it. She needs those services - they are so vital!

K: Ignore the numbers, they are there to teach your girl and care about her.

A: Bring some cookies to the IEP meeting; let the school personnel guide the meeting, but ensure that you voice any and all concerns; if there is an accommodation that you believe would be beneficial and they say "We can't do that," ask them to put it in writing; relax; and finally, do not feel pressured to sign anything except the attendance papers tomorrow. To reiterate that final piece of advice, *do not* sign off on the IEP document at the meeting. (They will most likely have already developed a "draft IEP," which is frowned upon but done anyway; thus, that document will not truly be a collaborative document including your insight and input, which is the purpose of the meeting.)

I apologize for the long post.  As I mentioned before, this is our experience thus far as it relates to Ellie. This is her first IEP.  I imagine that the process will become more complicated as she gets older and subject matter such as writing and math come into play.  

Even though it all went well, I still felt like this:

Cue: Crying Mama Bear



  1. This is a totally awesome post so full of excellent information. Your little one is beautiful, and I hope your heart has recovered from her first day away from you.

    Tammy and Parker

  2. Oh I hate the IEP meeting! We have a great team, but it is still so intimidating. At our recent meeting I made a video of Coop to share (we too had new members who hadn't met him yet). He did some of his signs and said some words. I think it was a nice intro for his new teacher. You have some great ideas in the post! Glad all went well. :)

  3. Thank you for this great post - just what I needed to read right now - ours is so soon & I feel so not ready. I'm a little hesitant on bringing food goodies though - don't want to seem artificially nice & bribing.


I love your comments and I read each and every single one of them.