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Support vs. Crutch

When your child needs help, you naturally want to do everything you can to make sure that he succeeds.  But sometimes, we don’t give kids enough credit for what they can do.

It’s a difficult balance… providing support, but not creating a crutch.


Remember,  your goal should be to create an environment where they can be successful in school so that they can be successful in life.  For some kids, that may mean lifelong dependency.  But, for most kids, it means that they will have to learn how to thrive in spite of their disabilities…

Extra time, quiet environments, calculators are all things that we – as adults – can use in our professional life.  For example, if we are not deadline driven, we can find a job where we can take out own time to figure out the problem.  We all have calculators to figure out the tax on a restaurant check.

Having an aide (or computer technology) read to a child who has difficulty reading, but is ABLE to read, doesn’t set that child up for lifelong success.    As an adult, we need to read – street signs, menus, emails, not to mention contracts, phone bills or an election ballot.  Eventually a child who has the ability, needs to learn HOW to read.  Don’t hold your child back by building an IEP with so many accommodations that they are not given the freedom to stretch and grow.  Instead of a reader, that child may need extra time with a teacher to develop better reading skills and strategies.

A big part of learning comes from failing… and we need to make sure that our children are able to fail SAFELY, so that they can stretch past their limitations to learn new skills.

Remember, the point of an IEP is to create an environment where your child can LEARN NEW THING (support), not an environment where others are doing the hard things for him (crutch).

Confused about the difference, or want to know what supports may be appropriate for your child?  Let us know!


the “I” in IEP

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a school administer say “we don’t do that here”, or “that’s never been done”.

There’s a reason why the word INDIVIDUALIZED is the first word in the IEP process — each child should receive the specific support that he/she needs to succeed. Not the type of support that the school is comfortable offering. Not the cookie-cutter program that the teachers are used to. An INDIVIDUALIZED program. When the school administrators start pushing back, it’s a sign that the program that you are discussing is truly specific for your child.

Keep going.
Don’t let up.
You are an expert when it comes to your child.

Don’t let the administrators bully you into a program that isn’t right for your child.
And don’t feel bad. The whole point of the IEP process is to create an unique program that addressed YOUR child’s individual needs.

Look the Part

An easy tip I give my parents is to always look professional.  An IEP meeting is a formal contract negotiation.  You should look the part – dress accordingly, bring a notepad & pen to take notes, and organize your paperwork in a binder.
Image result for binder photo

It may seem like a little thing, but appearances matter, and a binder is a simple and easy way to “look the part”.  Put copies of all of the paperwork in the notebook, notes that you have on your child’s performance, previous report cards, examples of work product…. you get the picture.

The goal here is twofold:

1. To keep you organized

2. To give the IEP team the impression that you mean business and are ready to take an active role in your child’s educational plan.

Sometimes the little things make a big difference.


It’s the little things

Last week, I helped a family get services for their child.  Their child is a great kid … he’s very social, he tries hard, he has some learning difficulties and he has a specific genetic syndrome that causes poor eye sight.  In fact, both of his lenses are dislocated.  He has been recommended for surgery on both eyes to correct the dislocation.

This, as you can imagine, makes seeing very difficult.  This boy wears very thick glasses, and still needs to place a book almost up to his nose to see the text.

In other words, this vision impairment is not only well documented, it is very noticeable.

Thick glasses are noticeable and a sign that seeing may be difficult.

Going into the meeting, we thought we would be able to have the school provide large-text books and perhaps audio books so that this boy could follow along.  The parents were willing to go out and purchase the books / audio books for home on their own, to help facilitate the process.  But, the school system could not provide any of these types of accommodations since the vision impairment specialist was not on sight.

Think about this… a child, who has two dislocated lenses and is probably considered legally blind, will not be given large print text books or audio books to help him learn!  It seems crazy!

The moral is this… sometimes the most obvious things are the most difficult to get through.

My advice: keep your focus the ultimate goal, don’t get discouraged and document what you know.   And remember, it’s about your kid … not about the politics.

IEP Process – The Basics

An IEP is the individual education process that provides services, accommodations and/or modifications to students with disabilities.  The IEP is the end result of a long process that starts by identifying students with needs and through the negotiation process of determining what services that student should receive.


  • The IEP process is a team effort that first determines if a student is eligible for special education, and then works to provide an appropriate education plan for that specific child.

  • The school’s job is to determine if a disability impacts the student’s learning.

  • As a parent, you are an equal participant in the IEP team, and should act accordingly.



The first step in determining what the child’s IEP looks like is actually determining if the child is ELIGIBLE for special education services.  Under IDEA, a student must fall into at least one of 13 pre-determined categories of disability.

Your local public school is tasked with evaluating children over the age of 3 to determine if they have one of the 13 disabilities.  If you think your child should have special education services (which include OT, PT as well as speech therapies), then all you need to do is REQUEST AN EVALUATION from your teacher or administrator.  A team will then be assembled to determine IF an evaluation should be performed, and which tests are most appropriate.  As a parent, you are an EQUAL participant in this team.


Once it has been determined that your student should undergo testing, the school has 60 days from the date of approval to perform the evaluation and meet with the IEP team.  Note, the school must not test the student until explicit approval from the parent is given with regards to the specific tests that will be performed.

The goal of the comprehensive testing is to determine whether or not the child qualified for one of the 13 protected disabilities under IDEA.

It is interesting to note that the qualification for a “specific learning disability” is determined by a significant discrepancy between achievement and ability (as measured by the difference between IQ and academic test results).  This determination is not only subjective, but also difficult to identify in children below 3rd grade.

Also of note is that the school is not able to diagnose disabilities like autism, ADHD and most other physical delays or disabilities.  The school’s job is to determine if a disability impairs learning.  In cases where a diagnosis is available, it is always a good idea to include a medical professional or the current therapist in the IEP evaluation process.  As an advocate, I advise my clients to bring in private testing results whenever possible.

3. IEP Meeting

After your student has been tested, the school will schedule a meeting to review the results of the testing and to determine eligibility under the law.   If your child has a medical diagnosis, it’s a good idea to bring in a report from the medical practitioner, or have the doctor there.

Team members that are required to be there include a district administrator, the special education teacher, the school psychologist (or someone else to interpret the data), the general education teacher.  The parents are encouraged to attend and, if appropriate, the student is encouraged to attend as well (although the student is required to attend after the age of 16).  Finally, any adaptive service providers – including OT, PT and/or speech will most likely be there if the IEP deals with these functional areas.

In all cases, we recommend bringing someone (other than a parent) in the room to help hear what is said, to take notes, and to advocate for the student and the parents.  This person can be a grandparent, an aunt, a friend or a hired advocate.  But you want someone who is not emotionally tied to the outcome of the IEP document.


4. IEP Plan Development

During the IEP meeting, if your student has been deemed eligible for special education, the team will then begin working on the actual IEP plan.  The school will propose some services, accommodations and modifications that they think will help your student better succeed.  Remember, that you are a vital part of the team and you are really the best advocate for your student.

The IEP is a legal document that documents what services the district will be providing the student and the goals of those services will be addressing.

In later articles we will explain what elements are required in the IEP and how to ensure that the IEP is followed.