You notice your child is not performing in school as well as his/her peers and you begin to think something is going on. It is at this point that you, or an educator, might suggest an assessment be given.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an empirical, research-based practice that helps individuals recognize their negative thoughts and replace them with more positive ways of thinking. It can be especially helpful to those with anxiety, depression and OCD.
I talk with Dr. Perry Passarro, a licensed educational psychologist about CBT. We discuss what it is, how it works for students with special needs and what a typical therapy session looks like.
The IEP meeting is a crucial opportunity for you as a parent or caregiver to understand what the school district is providing for your child. Being prepared and ready to go means you will be at your peak performance.
We put together some tips below to help you with your meetings. Give them a try; we are confident they will help you feel strong, organized and empowered.
1. Bring Somebody With You
Always bring someone with you. This may be your spouse, advocate, lawyer (although that will change the tone of the meeting) neighbor or friend. Having someone with you means you feel more confident and are not alone as you face a room full of district employees all speaking about your child.
Talk about a high-pressure situation!
Have him, or her, take notes on what is said, offer an occasional clarification question and simply be there to make you feel better. By having an additional set of ears, your understanding of the meeting will be significantly improved. My wife Lori, and I were never alone during IEP meetings, and every single time (yes every single time) we had two different understandings about what was said. 😉 By talking it through, we were able to come to a common understanding.
Imagine if we had been alone!
2. Be Polite
Lots of “hellos,” handshakes, “thank you’s” “and please’s” sets a positive, helpful tone during the meeting. I know I sound like my mother here, but it does help. People are more open when they are comfortable, and you want district employees to be as open as they can. Also, we found that by being polite, it helped us if we became upset at something that was said or a service that was not delivered. The meeting participants then gave more legitimacy to our irritations as it was out of the ordinary.
3. Be and Look Prepared
Take a look at our post on what to bring to your IEP meeting and have it ready to go. Make sure the paperwork you bring is organized, a binder or similar with tabs is best, and that you have extra copies to distribute as needed. Looking and being prepared creates a strong first impression on people in meetings. We strongly believe in this approach when talking to any providers (school or otherwise) about our son. It elevates the conversation to a higher level with more details and ultimately leads to a better outcome. Teachers labeled us as being “very involved” in our son’s education; they meant that as a positive comment.
4. Assume Best Intentions
Teachers and other professionals involved in working with students are there to help students learn and be successful. By assuming everybody in the room is working to help your child, you will feel more relaxed and present a non-threatening demeanor. They, in turn, will assume best intentions in you and everybody will be off to a great start.
5. Take Notes and Show That You Are Taking Notes
I use my laptop to take notes during meetings. Lori likes to write it down. Either way is good. Taking notes also lets you write down questions you have and ask them later on during the discussion. I promise you, no matter how smart you are, having notes will be a huge help later on when you are recalling or looking back at a previous meeting.
6. Ask Questions for Clarification
During the IEP you are going to hear information and ideas that may be new or confusing. Sometimes it is hard to explain an accommodation, service or classroom interaction. By asking questions, you not only help yourself understand the information, but you also give feedback to the district employee that you are listening and processing what they are saying.
One of my favorite things to do is ask questions that tap the background and expertise of one of the meeting members. For example, “What do you think Braden’s (our son) initial reaction will be to this accommodation?” I do so in a way that lets the person know I value their opinion. It tends to give them pause from a standard statement they are giving and pushes them to reflect on what they are saying. You can see the body language change right away as they pause, look upward, then give their opinion. They feel valued, and you know if they have a larger understanding of the ideas they are suggesting.
7. Avoid Talking Too Much
An IEP meeting is structured and designed for each district specialist and educator to speak and seek feedback. It is also designed for you to ask questions and seek understanding. It is NOT designed for parents to talk, grieve, and unload the stresses of having a child with special needs. Look, I get it. Having a special needs child is difficult, and we are reminded of this every day. However, an IEP is not a good place to unload those stresses.Save that for friends, support groups, etc.
Lori and I have a signal for each other if we start talking too much. Usually (maybe always) I am the one who needs the signal to stop cracking jokes (my way of dealing with stress) and to just listen. This is yet another reason to bring someone with you.
8. Dress Well
We dress up for religious services, weddings, work, job interviews and more. An IEP meeting is at least as important as those events, so dressing up is equally as important. We all make assumptions about people on how they dress. It may be right or wrong, but we do it. Looking your best can only serve to help. Gentleman, you don’t need a tuxedo though. 😉
9. Don’t Worry If Tears Fall
Early IEP’s, where you have just learned your child has extra learning needs, are emotional events. Often tears may fall as you listen to how your child is not like all the other kids. If you start to cry, don’t worry about it. Members of the IEP team will see a parent who cares deeply about their child. They may even be more empathetic about your situation.
Grab a tissue, recover and move on. 😉
10. Sincerely Thank Everybody at the End of the Meeting
The end of an IEP meeting is a great chance to let people know how much you appreciate the work they are doing. I like to individually thank each person by pointing out an example of their efforts. “Braden loves sensory time, and we are using many of the techniques you suggested at home now.” Now, if you are feeling angry, upset or frustrated at the conclusion, it is just as important to thank everybody for their time. This tells people it is not personal (even if it feels like it is) and that while you must continue to advocate for your child, you will be reasonable.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments section below.
The other day I read an interesting article “What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?” and it really spoke to me.
As a classroom teacher and father to a 17-year-old boy with special needs and profound autism, the topic of discipline and behavior comes up all the time. Both at home and at school. While I can usually figure out the reasons behind a behavior for typically developing students I teach, I struggle much more with understanding atypical behaviors from students and my son.
As teachers we are quick to punish, often through disapproval and other means, a child’s behaviors. Frankly, for the majority of children it works. We can continue to move on with the work of the day and provide a framework for what is considered appropriate and inappropriate behavior in a classroom. For the typical students who generally get along with a classroom’s expectations, this works very well.
For a student who struggles with routines, does not process rules well or is “seeking” some other type of input such as sensory or attention, it does not work very well. They are the outliers in the group. Often additional, more severe punishment is given in an attempt to correct or solve the behavior. However, for these types of students, some who may have special needs, it is not always effective. As the author of the article points out “After all, what good does it do to punish a child who literally hasn’t yet acquired the brain functions required to control his behavior?”
The article quotes Dr. Ross Greene and back in the summer of 2009, I interviewed Dr. Ross Greene for a podcast I used to do on autism (I no longer keep it active) He said something that really stood out to me: “all children want to do well.” This is significant as there is often a common belief that not all children want to do well. However, if we take what Dr. Greene says to heart and see it as a truth in our interactions with students, then suddenly our frame of reference changes. We can no longer see a child’s behavior as a choice on their part. Rather, we must look for the reason behind the behavior and then work to resolve that behavior.
It is often not easy and as a parent and teacher, sometimes I feel like giving up and going back to the “choice to misbehave” theory. At those moments I take a break, recharge and keep on learning. The more often we look for a deeper meaning, the more experience we gain and the better educators we become.
What Does This Mean For Students With Special Needs in California?
We must continue to advocate for our students who fall outside the typical set of behaviors we see at school. We must understand why they are acting and reacting the way they do. To avoid punishment as a default response and to seek accommodations and other services that help a child succeed at their best.
The result of these efforts are students and families being part of the education system and enjoying it to their full advantage.
An IEP, is an individualized education plan. It is regularly found in public school systems as well as some private schools.
The IEP is a written document and serves an education plan for students with exceptional (special) needs and is reviewed at least once a year. It sets goals and expectations for your child’s learning and growth. Parents, caregivers and school district representatives (teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists, special education teachers and more) participate in the drafting and signing of the document.
Done well (and they often are), an IEP is a fantastic document developed with the input of many professionals all looking to design a program that helps your child progress.
The IEP should explain how your child is doing currently (present level of performance) specific goals for your child to meet, services he/she will receive as well as any accommodations that will help him/her to succeed.
What You Should Know
- A district has 30 days to call an IEP meeting after it has been determined that a student IDEA listed disability. IDEA is the Individual Disability in Education Act
- An IEP must be reviewed every year
- An IEP binds a school district to provide the services and accommodations outlined in the document
A special education advocate is an individual who works on your behalf to help you secure services for your child. Some advocates work for free, while others charge a fee for services. They have varying degrees of experience and many have a child themselves with special needs.
An advocate is much less expensive than an attorney and is the next step up from handling the case yourself. Fees for an advocate may be recoverable if a settlement hearing occurs.
Sample of services
- Listen to your situation and help you clarify your child’s needs
- Attend IEP meetings with you
- Draft correspondence with the district
- Suggest and explain services available through your district
- Explain how the FAPE process works at your district
- Attend mediation and hearings as your representative
- Recommend support groups, other parents, and specialists
Questions you should ask
- Have you been through the IEP process yourself as a parent?
- What types of cases have you worked on?
- What is your educational background?
- Have you been through any advocate training programs?
- Do you work for or under an attorney?
- Describe your role when during an IEP meeting.
- What do you enjoy and not enjoy about being an advocate?
- Conversation with …. An advocate at California Special Needs Law Group
- The Difference Between Special Education Advocates and Attorneys
- Ten Reasons Why You Should Have an Advocate For Your Child with Special Needs
While classrooms across the nation are supposed to be safe places of learning for all children, the reality is that this expectation doesn’t always mirror reality.
But when the students on the receiving end of unfair or even inhumane treatment are special needs children, some of whom might be nonverbal and unable to tell their parents or caregivers about any incidents, the situation can be even more harrowing.
Consider these cases, for instance:
- A child with various disabilities comes home with unexplained injuries one day
- A special needs child is pulled by the hair by a teacher
- A special needs boy is locked away inside of a padded room for several hours
In light of instances like the aforementioned, some parents and experts are increasingly calling for cameras to be installed in special needs classrooms to protect the vulnerable.This blog will consider whether or not there should be cameras in special education classrooms.
Pros & Cons
Any talk of introducing cameras into the classroom environment is bound to be controversial with proponents for and against. What follows are some pros and cons of such a policy.
- Pros: Cameras essentially give a voice to special needs children who might otherwise be able to tell their parents or caregivers of any difficulties they encounter at school. Having footage of mistreatment, moreover, will provide proof of any mistreatment. In special needs classes with cameras, students would have a safer work environment that is more conducive to learning.
- Cons: When it comes to cameras in the classroom, one key problem that some might have is the issue of confidentiality. In other words, there may be concerns over who gets to see the video tape. As well, some parties believe that cameras should either be installed in all classrooms — special needs and non-special needs — or in no classrooms at all. Yet another complaint is the costs associated with equipping special needs classrooms with the technology.
There are definitely some privacy issues that are bound to come up when discussing this topic, but it can be argued that the benefits of protecting children override any privacy concerns. Furthermore, teachers who have any issues with this sort of arrangement should remember that they are under contract with a school system that has the right to dictate working conditions within reason. Although there are people and groups who are for and against this issue, the best interests of children should be paramount since they may be unable to speak up for themselves.
What the Experts Say
In one report, a number of experts comment on a new law ordering schools to rollout cameras inside of special education classrooms. Meanwhile, Sue Nelson, who is the superintendent at Tuloso Midway, says in the report that the order is “a non-funded mandate,” which means that the schools will have to shoulder the cost of buying and implementing the technology. She adds that this aspect of the technology plan is a problem since the cost has to be footed by the schools.
Katie Kelly, a psychologist and attorney in Florida, says in a report that parents of special needs children who have been mistreated are coming together via the Internet to push for cameras in special education classrooms. She adds that stories of abuse happen to be “a daily occurrence.”
Indeed, the debate about whether or not there should be cameras in special education classrooms continues, and there are proponents on both sides of the fence. The needs of children, however, is the most important part of the equation, which means that a positive development would be for there to be a more widespread rollout of cameras in special needs classrooms across the U.S.
When your child approaches adulthood and is set to go out into the world on his or her own, parents understandably worry about their wellbeing. Did they do a good job preparing them? Does their child have the necessary skills to support itself financially? These concerns are even more crucial when the adult child has a special need such as autism, which is why it is a good idea to speak with a special needs lawyer and have an active legal plan that takes care of your special needs child’s financial and medical situation. Whether the child is capable of taking on all responsibilities or needs some guardianship, take the time to speak with a professional and know what your child can and cannot do on his or her own.
Assess Your Child’s Capacity to Make Financial Decisions
One of the hardest things for any young adult to get a handle on when they first go out into the world on their own is the ability to make sound financial decisions; this is especially difficult for child with special needs, so it is important to take a look at how well they do making financial decisions before you make any guardianship decisions. It’s a good idea to make a checklist of how well you think they can handle this responsibility:
- How well did they perform in math in their classes? What was the highest level they completed?
- How well can your child read?
- Will your child be employable?
- What kind of financial skills do they already possess? Do they have the ability to balance a checkbook? Can they read a bank statement? Can they make investment decisions?
- Is your child able to make change at a store?
- Are they employable?
- Are they susceptible to financial exploitation?
When you take an honest look at your child’s capacity to make these sorts of decisions without you, you can outline the best course of action for the future and their independence.
Can Your Child Make Personal Care Decisions?
Finances aren’t the only decisions your special needs child will have to make on their own. They will have to make personal decisions that we may take for granted, but for a child on the autism spectrum, they can be difficult. Something as simple as understanding a diagnosis can prove to be a challenge, depending on how functioning your child is. Answer these questions for yourself in order to get a better idea of what your child will be faced with:
- Can your child have a conversation with their doctor and understand the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plans?
- Can your child drive a vehicle?
- Can they live independently?
- Can your child learn to vote and understand the consequences?
- Can your child do everyday functions on their own, such as bathing, cooking, grooming, and dressing?
Once you answer these questions for yourself, talk to a special needs law attorney no later than two months before your child’s 18th birthday in order to decide upon a legal plan.
Understand the Different Legal Options Pertaining to Special Needs Children
How your special needs lawyer chooses to proceed with how to handle your child’s financial and medical well-being will depend greatly on your child’s legal “capacity”. In the legal realm, “capacity” pertains to the ability to understand, reason, and appreciate the consequences of one’s actions. Overall, there are three ways to legally proceed:
If your child is high functioning, the lawyer may be able to process legal documents for your child that will detail a financial and medical plan.
The documents you should be familiar with are as follows:
- a) Durable Power of Attorney: identifies a trusted person who has legal authority to make various financial decisions when a person is incapacitated, including paying bills, authorizing bank transactions, or filing tax returns.
- b) Designation of Health Care Surrogate: identifies a trusted person to make various medical decisions in the event that your child is unable to give informed consent, including authorizing a medical procedure, authorize discharge from hospital or transfer to another facility, or change residence.
- c) HIPAA Authorization: states the Health Care Surrogate can access confidential health care information under the HIPAA medical privacy law.
Guardian Advocate Proceeding
Guardian advocate proceeding allows your special needs child to retain the highest level of independence in their decision-making. The goal of this court-assisted proceeding is to assign a parent or guardian as a Guardian Advocate to assist and support a special needs child with their decisions. The adult child retains their legal rights while the Guardian Advocate has the legal authority to assist in medical or financial decision-making. There are some limitations to this option, however. For example, if the adult child has another mental health diagnosis separate from their autism, like bipolar disorder, the court may prevent you from filing a Guardian Advocate Proceeding.
If your child with special needs has a lower capacity, your only option may be a guardianship proceeding. This option appoints a legal guardian to make financial and medical decisions. This proceeding may be right for your adult child’s situation if their ability to make decisions is hindered by a physical, cognitive, or mental disability. The adult child loses some or all rights (depending on the capacity of the individual), which are granted to the guardian. These rights include:
- The right to vote
- The right to marry
- The right to contract
- Apply for government benefits
- Make medical decisions
- Determine residence
- Seek employment
- The right to sue or defend
- The ability to manage real or personal property
Planning ahead and creating a plan for your special needs adult child can really alleviate worry and unneeded headaches that may come up if you haven’t figured out what to do. Talking through the next phase of your child’s life with a special needs lawyer will help give you peace of mind and give your child the right amount of freedom.
Parents always want their children to be able to achieve success in their academics. Parents of children with special needs might find that traditional ways of studying or learning might not be the best approach for their children. Sometimes trying to incorporate different methods of learning, such as kinesthetic activities or music, to your child’s study sessions can help them to learn material and content. Even just creating a more focused and supportive study space in your home can help with their studying. Here are some ways you can help your child with special needs study effectively:
- Communicate With Your Child’s School – First and foremost, figuring out how to best help your child is to create a partnership with their school. Your child likely spends a good part of their days with their teachers and instructors, so these are the people you want to look to for help in assisting your child study at home. Meet with their teachers to find out how your child is doing and where they might need some special focus or improvement. Listen to their advice and offer suggestions as well as consider their feedback about your suggestions, this can help your child’s learning process carry over seamlessly from school to home.
- Identify How Your Child Learns Best – Meeting with your child’s teachers and instructors can help you figure out how your child learns best. Find out if they are more visual learners or more independent learners. Classroom environments have to accommodate for all their students’ learning preferences, but adapting your home study sessions to your child’s needs can help further their learning process. This personalized studying can give them more time to learn material and content in a way as well as pace that they like.
- Incorporate Music – If your child is an auditory learner consider using songs and music in their study session. Children with special needs often respond well to voice inflection and tone, which songs inherently possess. Using music also helps to keep study session multi-sensory and promotes active learning that many teachers try to achieve in the classroom as well.
- Incorporate Kinesthetic Learning – Creating kinesthetic activities around what your child might be learning at school can help them associate the information with fun and better retain the information. Children with special needs also respond well to activities that get them moving and are multi-sensory. Incorporating kinesthetic activities, such as experiments or even small activities such as memory cards, can enhance their at-home study sessions by being not just fun but adapting to their style of learning.
- Utilize Technology – There are many apps that are beneficial for children with special needs. Specifically there are great apps that help with helping children with special needs study. Apps such as virtual flash card creators can make learning visual and appeal to their sensory learning. Along with apps there are many websites that can help with organizing studying schedules or making at home study sessions more productive such as websites with interactive readers.
- Create A Productive Study Space – One overlooked, but simple way to help your child with special needs study is to create a safe study space for them in your home. Many parents and children take to the kitchen table or the living room to study and do homework. However, creating a separate space or room just for their school work can help them stay focused and associate that time with just school work. Creating this space can help them keep away from distractions but also have a space where they are free to learn in their own personalized way.
Overall, the best way to help your child with special needs study is to become involved in the learning process with them. Be an active member of their school and try to carry over their school learning to home. Incorporating learning methods that are tailored for them at home can help enhance their studying so that they retain material and information better.