The thought of my daughter attending school scared the crap out of me a good few years before she even started! Constant thoughts that circulated my mind over and over.
Would she go to a mainstream school?
What would her support look like?
How would she cope?
Will she need her wheelchair there? Who will push it?
How will she cope with so many people?
For sure all parents have these sorts of questions that race through their mind (usually around 2am. Right?) with their children starting school. But it just creates that little bit of extra anxiety for parents who have children with a delay or disability. Their needs are different, and the worry is just amplified.
The good news is when your child starts attending school an IEP will be put in place and this can hopefully ease some of that apprehension and answer some of the never-ending questions.
An IEP is the abbreviated term for Individualised Education Program. It is for children who have a delay or disability. Essentially it is a plan for families and educational professionals to have in place so that the child can gain the most from their time at school.An IEP is about access and equity in education and should consider the “reasonable adjustments” that need to be made to provide students with access to teaching, learning and the schooling experience generally. They ensure that the education system legally follows their requirements to the diverse needs of children.
Who creates an IEP?
The most important person in this process is you! The parent or carer of the child. Only you know your child best and can advocate for their needs.
The development of an IEP is a collaborative effort. My daughter has had two implemented now and each time both my husband and I have been present, the principle (or assistant principle), Learning support coordinator, class teacher and the educational officer for learning diversity.
A child’s support therapists are also allowed to be present; we have never had them there as I feel quite confident to discuss my child’s needs but it can be organised for them to be there.
A meeting is had, usually with the people above present and together a program is specifically developed for your child to assist them to meet their goals and to be an active member in their schooling environment.
What happens at an IEP meeting?
An IEP meeting will happen at least once every year. The meeting will determine what supports and accommodations will be needed to ensure inclusion for your child.
Things that will be discussed in an IEP meeting.
- Student details: age, their disability, and support services they receive (occupational therapy, physiotherapy, behaviour psychology etc.).
- Family background: what the support out of school looks like, anything that will impact their time at school.
- Strengths: What your child is good at and what they are interested in.
- Needs: What are the needs of the child? What challenges do they face and how will this impact them at school? For example, my daughter has cerebral palsy, and she fatigues quite quickly she will need access to her wheelchair throughout the day to help with this. She also has autism and struggles with change and routines so incorporating visuals in the classroom will assist with this.
- Goals: Goals will be discussed for the year. A goal for my daughter ‘Willow will gradually overcome her anxiety of attending a music lesson with the use of social stories, visuals and reassurance from her teacher aide’.
IEP goals should describe answers to these questions.
1. How will the student’s competence change as a result of instruction?
2. When, where, or with whom will the student do the activity
3. What kind of help or support will the child need?
Goals should include the following features.
1. The goal is an activity
2. The goal says what the student will do
3. The goal will describe the natural conditions under which the student will do the activity
Other topics that will be covered over the duration of the meeting will include:
- academic strategies and progress
- communication strategies and progress
- physical health and needs
- independence skills, including building capacity to study and self-care independently
- socialisation skills and peer connection issues
- general emotional well being
- self-regulation and behaviour skills.
Once all these aspects of your child’s development have been discussed and plans have been put in place, you will go over the IEP and usually sign it so state that you agree to the individualised program.
IEP are an integral key aspect which will ensure inclusion is paramount and that your child’s needs are being met. They are beneficial to keep the school accountable to assist your child to reach their full potential in their schooling environment.