For most children, the transition from their first learning environment to more formal schooling represents a developmental milestone. Children with special needs experience an even greater evolution during this time, as plans are made that will shape their education for years.
Transitioning out of the “early intervention” stage, many children with special needs enter traditional schools to build on their progress and continue to grow. During this important developmental progression, parents can make a significant positive impact on their child’s academic trajectory by understanding and being deeply involved in creating a specialized education plan for them.
Pursuing accommodations through an IEP plan
To help students with special needs learn more and achieve academic success, educators and parents leverage a tool called Individual Education Plan (IEP) allowed under Illinois education law. Unique to each student an IEP provides a structure of accommodations — adjustments to normal procedure — the student will receive on a day-to-day basis in the classroom.
IEP accommodations are realistic and appropriate actions the school and its educators can take to improve a child’s chances for academic success. Securing an IEP for your child with special needs helps ensure they have the tools and consideration needed to succeed in their school environment.
Common IEP accommodations
Presentation accommodations: Alternative ways for instructions and content to be presented to the student, such as receiving verbal directions from the teacher or a list of written directions. Other examples include tools such as large-print materials and audio recordings of lessons.
Response accommodations: Alternative ways for the student to complete assignments and tests, such as providing answers in a format that’s easier for them (written or orally), or using a calculator or math table during tests.
Setting accommodations: Includes strategies to help the student increase focus, such as providing a private space in which to take tests; positioning them at the front of the room; adjusting lighting or acoustics, and more.
Schedule and timing accommodations: Providing flexibility in time expectations and the sequence of tasks, including extended time for tests; breaking tests up over multiple sessions; testing at certain times of day, etc.
Determining eligibility for special education services
Before a child may receive an IEP, Illinois law requires them to be evaluated for specific abilities. This evaluation usually is conducted by a special IEP team at the school district where you’re hoping to enroll your child.
Though your child’s special needs may be documented by other professionals, this evaluation is an important step in the process, providing the team with more information about the child’s developmental stage and future needs.
The school district will request parental consent for the team to perform the evaluation. It’s important to remember that your consent at this time relates only to the evaluation, and not a subsequent IEP to be developed.
Conditions that qualify a student to receive an IEP plan include the following:
- Specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, and nonverbal learning disability
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Emotional disturbance
- Speech or language impairment
- Visual impairment, including blindness
- Hearing impairment
- Orthopedic impairment
- Intellectual disability
- Traumatic brain injury
- Other health impairment: includes ADHD and other conditions that limit a child’s strength, energy or alertness
Members of the IEP consultation team
The school district’s IEP consultation team will include one or more special education teachers, along with mainstream teachers if the student will be in those classes. The team will also include a professional who can interpret the child’s evaluation results into functional instructional accommodations and a school staff member who can provide or supervise their specialized instruction.
In addition to school personnel and specialists, parents hold an important seat at the table when considering their child’s IEP. Parents should receive the results of all evaluations, along with thorough explanations. They must use their position to offer information and voice concerns as the team works toward decisions about eligibility and accommodations.
When possible, children themselves should also be present and involved in their IEP development meetings. While parents and education professionals have genuine intentions, children have the right to speak on their own behalf.
IEP planning for children of divorced parents
When parents of a child with special needs divorce, they must manage IEP planning similarly to other decisions that affect their child’s health and education. In most cases, both parents must consent to the IEP evaluation and planning process. However, the parenting agreement in your case may allow one parent to make these decisions.
At the same, both parents should be present at IEP meetings, sharing their observations and ideas for success. While opinions may differ during the process, these contributions will result in a more thoughtful, comprehensive plan.
Creating an IEP for your child will require research, openness, time, and cooperation. It may necessitate more compromise with an ex-spouse. The long-term benefits to your child’s education and academic success will be worth it.
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Call Sterk Family Law (815) 600-8950 or complete the form below to understand more about your rights as a parent in securing an IEP for your child, and how to coordinate with an ex-spouse for the best outcome.
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