It is common to take the old IEP and ask what needs to be changed? That was the starting point for our conversation. Should we keep the old modifications and adaptions? How do we address academic challenges? We reviewed his medical history and his life skills during our conversation. Then we asked her son to join us and talk about school. As with most 17 year olds, he wasn't excited about the discussion, but he was willing to work with us.
What would you change if you could change one thing about school? "The day is too long. By the afternoon, I feel like my brain wants to explode!" he replied. His old IEP did not have any modification for length of day. He is literally falling asleep by the end of the day. For the IEP: modify length of school day.
Then we talked about what he will do after high school. Transition is a required part of the IEP for students 14 years and older. Of course, we talked about what happens after high school. Job? College? Technical school? He said he wanted to go to a 2 year program after high school. That brought up another topic for the IEP: Can he start to attend some classes at the votech before graduating from high school. This is a great way for students to see how things will be after high school. It also creates an opportunity for real transition. Problems can be identified and addressed on the IEP. Skills can be developed with the support available in a high school.
His life skills also need some work to be ready for adulthood. He does his own laundry, but he gets a lot of support for other parts of his life. Budgeting and money management is a concern for him. Decision making and impulse control are also issues. He received detention for being tardy because he went to the vending machine to get a snack rather than getting to class on time enough times to warrant detention for tardiness.
Schools tend to focus on academics almost to the exclusion of other things that students with special needs have to learn. Life skills are critical to success as an adult. This young man will be an adult in one year. He needs the skills to live independently. His current program, with the academic focus, won't provide the training he needs to learn skills for check book management, finding an apartment, buying groceries and cooking, and generally taking care of himself. We were left with questions about how to address these issues. Will he be eligible for services from vocational rehabilition after high school? Who will be available to help his family support his special needs as he transitions to adult life?
Whenever you meet to develop or revise an IEP, look at the old plan to see where you have been, but look at your child's future to see where you need to go. Looking back at the old play will never tell you the next step. Remember, at 18, your child is an adult. Will he have the skills he needs to function as an adult? Do you know where to go for help to assist your young adult in becoming independent? If your child won't be able to live independently, will she have the skills she needs express what she wants and direct her care? Many people in our society need supported living situations. Steven Hawking, who has one of the greatest minds we know of, is totally dependent for care. ALS has robbed him of the ability to move or accomplish the most basic self care. He is no longer able to speak with his voice. Yet he continues to be able to direct his care, study, and author books.
When you go into the IEP meeting, be prepared to ask for the help your child needs to live well outside of school. Students with special needs need special education to develop talents and skills that are not taught to most students. They need practice and repetition to learn new things. Use the IEP to develop the goals your child needs for a meaningful life!