I looked my 10 year old in the eye just yesterday and said: “Michael, you know we have a mere 16 days left of summer”? It was hard to say and so much harder to believe. Where did the summer go? How is it possible that three months went like THAT?!
But the truth is it did! And the other truth is that plans need to be made for the start of another school year. For those with typical children, the planning, shopping and prepping is pretty time consuming. But for those with a child with special needs and with an IEP, it is even more so.
We are some 19 years into our journey with Elizabeth. As such, I thought maybe I would share some of the things I do prior to each and every school year for Elizabeth. For me, the turning of the calendar to August signals that planning time has begun…
The first thing I do is to:
- Write a narrative about Elizabeth’s summer
- Talk about the changes in speech and language and in other areas on the IEP
- Arrange a meeting in a month or so after the start of school
I know that like most of you, IEP time is in the Spring and we review and sign a new IEP that will represent goals for our child in the upcoming school year. But something that has always troubled me about that is that, those goals, while good at the time, may need some adjusting as our children have had three months to go to therapies, live life and grow over the summer. So how can goals made then be exactly on point now?
How many of you can, right this minute, think of some new things your child did that was new? Words said that weren’t said before? Sentences said that were clear? I am sure there are many, many of you. These are things that the school therapists need to know.
How many of you tried a new therapy? Perhaps did some new “work” at home this summer? How many of you had that great feeling of “YES! She/he did it”! This needs to be shared with the school!
New skills, new things tried, and new attitude in your child… the list goes on. These all need to be told to those who will be working with your child this year.
1. WRITE A NARRATIVE ABOUT YOUR CHILD
I did and do each year. The narrative tells about all the things we did, such as activities like any camps or clubs and how your child did while in them.
I tell them about her anxiety or lack of, about her social skills and any changes I saw.
I tell them truthfully, how summer went.
This brings them up to speed on the “current” Elizabeth. Not the Elizabeth of three months ago. My theory here is why have a goal on the IEP that reflects something we have already done.
2. TELL THEM ABOUT THE CHANGES IN SPEECH AND LANGUAGE
I cannot tell you the amount of times I have read a narrative about Elizabeth’s speech goals that I have had adjusted after a summer of work.
If you have done oral motor work with your child, please describe it and tell them what you have seen from it.
If you have been working on a sound in isolation and now your child can do it, tell them.
If you have a child who said two word sentences but now says four words, tell them.
If you don’t share these, precious time could be spent working on things that have already been worked on this summer. Or worse, not worked on …YET because the therapist does not know you made inroads to these IEP goals. I am always afraid of time lost, so to bring everyone onto the same page right away is a pretty great thing.
3. TELL THEM ABOUT MEETING IN A MONTH OR SO.
I will admit: not always a favorite request of the intervention specialist and therapists, but one I feel is HUGE. Because if you think about it, you gave them the update for your child, you gave them the speech and language updates and now they have had the first month of school to see and work with your child. So to arrange a meeting to get their thoughts on your thoughts is really a fantastic way to make any changes or updates to the IEP.
Sometimes this is when our best work is done. Because we are working with ideas related to the current situation, not one in which we are anticipating what will be.
This is the time, at this meeting:
- To make the requests you feel are warranted, the ones you feel in your heart need to be there.
- To make the goals reflective of what is currently happening.
Something else that is important to do is to let them know you wish to remain active in the IEP during the year. Meaning: let the school know you wish to meet again. Perhaps in a month or so to simply check in on the goals. I have been known to request a quick check in type meeting every month. Again, not always a popular choice but one that assures me that I will not miss something that should be addressed. I have also found that even if you cannot meet physically, a phone call can work as well.
So now, after all this, one of the things I found really helps is to make copies of the letters and have them placed in the teachers’ mailboxes … Oops, that really dates me, doesn’t it? What I meant to say was to EMAIL the letters to the teachers staff and therapists. To make sure all will get them and read them, I ask that they email me back to acknowledge they have received the letters.
Because we all know that speech and language goals have hard fought victories, I have found that the sharing of reports from therapist to therapist is pretty great. So if you have had outside speech therapy over the summer, it is so helpful if that therapist would copy her records and you can get them to the school therapist. This way, once again, all the dots are connected.
It does seem like so much prep work, but please trust me, that the work to undo, fix, or arrange a full on IEP meeting while in a crisis will be so much more!!!
I am hoping those letters are filled with stories of beautiful words said by your child, fun summer experiences and successes to share!
Wishing everyone a peaceful start to the new school year.
Michele writes for TalkTools Blog every month about her experience caring for Elizabeth, her daughter with Sensory Processing Disorder and Dyspraxia. Follow her story since the beginning here.