Across the country, children and teens are about to conclude their first month of school. This presents a whole host of challenges for typically developing kids and their families, such as adjusting to a new class schedule, dealing with homework again and hearing your alarm go off at 6:30 am. However, for children with special needs such as autism, transitioning back into the routine of the regular school year can be a daunting endeavor. Nonetheless, there are pathways to success regardless of the potential hurdles that may present themselves to the child, their families, their peers and their educators.
For many children classified with special needs by their school district, this process begins with an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. The development of an IEP is an intensive process involving numerous assessments and the collaboration of multiple educators and service providers, including parents, advocates, teachers, coaches, principals, assistant principals, speech therapists, occupational therapists and behavioral interventionists. IEPs determine the placement of the child, such as a mainstream classroom or special day class, and how many minutes of supplemental services they will receive, such as 60 minutes of speech therapy per week. Goals are written by each educator or service provider with the intent for the child who is the subject of the IEP to succeed in the school setting.
Unfortunately, this process can become muddled if the IEP team does not efficiently collaborate during goal development and implementation throughout the school year. For example, goals may be too vague to properly target, inappropriate to target in the school setting or by that particular service provider, too lofty for the child to meet within the time provided or not challenging enough for the child. In each of these instances, it’s vital that parents, educators and service providers collaborate at the launch of the IEP to write appropriate and relevant goals to avoid each of these barriers. Goals must be consistently tracked and monitored to determine if the goal is on track towards mastery or if the IEP team needs to meet to modify the goal or introduce a new goal.
In order to ensure successful integration into the school and classroom setting, it is in the best interest of the child and their family for the IEP team to consistently communicate, whether it be to report that the child is doing exceptionally well with any given goal or that certain deficits are impeding progress. Furthermore, while educators and service providers are trained to target specific goals within the school setting, parents, as always, are their child’s best advocate. If for whatever reason there is a lack of collaboration by the IEP team, parents should initiate contact to check in with the team. On the other hand, if the IEP team is collaborating and providing efficient support to the child, it’s important that parents not impede that process, at the price of their child’s progress.
It is no secret that the IEP process can be an arduous and stressful process for all parties involved. Despite this, as long as each member of the team is on the same page, is consistently communicating with each other and the proper goals are being targeted, that child will be more likely to succeed and excel during that school year and in the future.