Owning the “I” in IEP: Empowering Students to Advocate for Themselves

When children have food allergies, we typically start educating them at a young age on what to avoid. We as parents will go out of our way to tell any adult who is coming into contact with our child that they have a food allergy. By the time most children with allergies hit kindergarten, they are quite confident in sharing their allergies with adults or anyone else who may benefit from this information. Many of us have heard of peanut free tables, classrooms and even schools. Unfortunately, when it comes to learning disabilities or other diagnosis’ that differentiate your child, we tend to teach our children to quiet down. We don’t want people to know our child is “different” and that they require the additional support of an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) As parents, we advocate for our children’s needs with school administration, but are we educating our child on what they are entitled to in the classroom? I think we should. I am not saying let’s start making bracelets that say “Ask me about my IEP” but I do believe we need to empower our children to advocate for themselves and the sooner you do that the better off your child will be.

I am sure there are a lot of parents that do teach their child to advocate for themselves. This blog is not meant to offend but to educate parents who may not realize the benefits to a child who knows what their IEP or 504 entitles them to in the classroom. The first challenge that we need to overcome is teaching our children to embrace their diagnosis. One way to do that is to help them identify with other people that might have a similar diagnosis. Tell your child that being different just means they are in good company. Here are a just a few famous people who have ADHD: Justin Timberlake, Will Smith, Michael Phelps, Jim Carrey, Terry Bradshaw, Pete Rose, Michelle Rodriguez, Solange Knowles. (This list was taken from Parenting.com http://www.parenting.com/gallery/famous-people-with-add-or-adhd ). There are also a number of famous people with OCD: David Beckham, Cameron Diaz, Donald Trump and Leonardo DiCaprio just to name a few. (This list was compiled from disabled-world.com http://www.disabled-world.com/artman/publish/famous-ocd.shtml) There is speculation that some of the greatest minds in history manifested some signs of autism in their behaviors. Albert Einstein, Michelangelo, Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Mozart have all been identified as people who may have had autism. (autismmythbusters.com). If you do an internet search for your child’s learning disability you are sure to come across a list of capable and successful people who did not let a learning challenge interfere with their success in life.

You may be thinking “It’s the teacher’s job to make sure that my child is getting the services and accommodation they need”. That is true. However, there is still an advantage for the student who knows what accommodations they are entitled to in the classroom. This is particularly important when we are talking about middle school and high school teachers who may see more than a hundred kids in one day. Let’s face it, when you go to the doctor they have your entire health history in front of them and yet they are still asking you questions about allergies and medications. We have no problem reminding them of what medications or allergies we have. Most of us wouldn’t dream of saying “Look it up it’s in my file.” This really is not that different. Your child should know what they need to help them find success in the classroom. This is a set of tools that will help them not only in college but also in life.

Understanding an IEP will help your child in two ways. The first way is that your child will know what goals are in place for him or her in the coming school year. The second way is by educating your child on what accommodations he or she needs to be successful on a task, assignment, assessment or just the class in general. So go grab your child’s IEP and get ready to empower your child for a successful school year.

IEP Goals represent what you (the parent) and the other IEP team members think your child will be able to accomplish in his area(s) of disability-academic, developmental, and functional-in a year’s time. Annual goals must be written in measurable terms. It is amazing to me how many students are not aware of the goals that are on their IEP. Really?! Would any adult want to be measured on their success at work without first knowing what the anticipated goals were for that job? No! Review the goals on the IEP with your child before the school year! This will inform your child on what is expected of him in the class as well as what he is expected to accomplish by the end of the school year. I would check in with your child at least weekly and ask them how they are doing on their goals. This will not only reinforce the goals in your child but it will also help you identify any potential problems.

Let’s talk about accommodations. First of all this is what they DO NOT do: alter the content of assignments, give students unfair advantage, or change what a test measures. Accommodations make it possible for students with learning disabilities to show what they know without being deterred by their disability. Students who use the support of accommodations for learning are really not any different than a student who needs glasses to see well. Review the accommodations with your child and ask them what they think each of the accommodations means and how it will help them in class.

Now that you have reviewed the accommodations how will make them accessible to your child? If the IEP accommodations are already formatted in a one page document you can just copy it and put it in a sheet protector or laminate it and they can keep it with their school materials. You could ask their teacher if they have an accommodation checklist that they can share with you. If not you always have the world- wide- web. I did a quick Google search of IEP Accommodation Checklist and found a number of resources. If your child is an elementary school you may want to simplify the language and turn it into a book mark that they can use in the classroom. For an older child I would suggest making use of technology. If you have an iPhone there is an app called IEP Checklist App and if use an Android device there is an app for $.99 called IEP goals. While you are at it, download these apps to your phone too. It never hurts to have easy access to something as important as your child’s IEP.

Okay, so now that they have the accommodations I am sure you are asking yourself, “What are they supposed to do with the information? “. I would contact your child’s teacher(s) at the beginning of the year and explain what you are trying to achieve. Educating your child on their IEP is a win-win situation and I would like to believe that every teacher would be supportive of your endeavor. I would ask the teacher(s) for a list of projects and tests that are coming up in the next month. Review the list and ask your child to identify what accommodations they should be receiving for those assignments. If you have a young child this will involve a lot of parental direction. However, if you start when they are young, by the time they are in middle school or high school, they will be able to do this with little parental support.

I believe the best thing you can do for your child is empower them to advocate for their success in the classroom. Teachers’ should not feel threatened by a student who knows what they need to be successful. The reality is that beyond academia there are no IEP’s. Once your child is out of school they need to know the supports that will help them find success in life. The best way to ensure they can transfer those skills to a career is by developing them while they are in school.


One thought on “Owning the “I” in IEP: Empowering Students to Advocate for Themselves

  1. Pingback: First Day of School Anxiety – 7 Tips for Parents

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