What exactly is special education?
Special education was initiated by the State under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). It is a mandate that requires all school districts to design student-specific education programs that meet the individualized needs of each student, at no cost to parents. The needs of each student are articulated in an IEP (Individual Educational Program), a legal document the school district bears the responsibility to develop collaboratively with the parents. The IEP outlines the services the student will receive once he or she qualifies for special education.
IEPs are designed to meet each student’s unique needs. It includes accommodations and modifications to support students and enable them to make progress regardless of their disability. The responsibility of the school district is to ensure that students make progress. Although there is no “cure” for autism, the severity of its manifestation can be reduced with an intensive educational program and behavioral interventions.
Statutes, case laws, regulations, and policies provide a framework for the development of IEPs for students who fall under any of the following NJ Administrative Codes (Title 6A, Chapter 14, Special Education). Although there is progress in better conceptualizing autism, interventions are still lagging in the school system. The selection of what constitutes an appropriate placement for these students is still a passionate topic involving educators and parents alike.
Research remains active in identifying the right educational and behavioral interventions in the hope of improving the quality of life of autistic individuals regardless of the varying clinical expressions of their diagnosis.
I.E.P. stands for “Individual”, “Education”, “Plan”. It is a legal document that is developed by the parents and their school district that outlines the student’s learning needs. It describes the services and support the school district will provide to the student. The parent is also part of the IEP process and works collaboratively with the district to develop an individualized program for their child.
An IEP describes the services and support your child will need in the classroom. It includes the accommodations and modifications that will support your child’s and progress. These “accommodations” and “modifications”are determined by the teacher based on each student’s needs. Accommodations do not change the program not its content. They only support students’ learning. “Modifications”, on the other hand, reflect changes to the curriculum or content, to adjust teaching to each students’ individual learning needs in line with the student’s abilities.
IEP meetings can be intimidating for first time parents. Your first IEP is very important. It is recommended that you come to the meeting well prepared with questions based on what your child’s struggles, his or her social challenges, on their communication style, what your hopes are for their future, etc.
Before any meeting, organize the paperwork you have. Most parents use binders where they compile all the files / records / documents / letters / evaluations, etc. they receive from the school. They usually file them in chronological order. In your file should be:
- Your child’s current records.
- Evaluations to include neurological evaluations and Child Study Team Evaluations.
- The progress report you received every quarter.
- Your child’s work samples.
- All the correspondence you sent to the school and the correspondence you received from the school.
- Meeting Notices.
- Decide if you want to hire an advocate or lawyer to escort you to the meeting if you feel you need support and someone who can better explain the process, to you.