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“This guide is a godsend…” New Orleans Times-Picayune
“Help[s] parents advocate for their child’s educational needs.” Providence Journal
"Provides all the strategies, forms, and instructions parents need to make the most of the Individualized Education Program" Reference & Research Book News
"Finally, an understandable and practical guide through the complex special education maze of the IEP! The Complete IEP Guide is must reading for any parent whether you're beginning the journey into special education or a veteran of the process." Larry Komar State Council for Children & Adults With Attention Deficit Disorder (CHADD)
A. Special Education: An Introduction
"Special education" is the broad term used to describe the educational system for children with disabilities. The term is used in this book to describe that portion of your child's school system which provides special services and programs for children with disabilities. There are three fundamental questions to consider as you begin the special education process:
Where is your child now?
Where do you want your child to be?
What do you need to get your child there?
IDEA entitles your child to an "appropriate" education which meets his unique needs. You'll likely have a good sense of what is meant by an appropriate education as you read this book. Broadly speaking, an appropriate education involves the following educational components: The specific program or class (called "placement") for your child. Placement is more than just a classroom; it also includes characteristics such as location, class size, teacher experience and peer make-up. The specific services (called related services) provided your child, as well as the amount and frequency of those services and who provides them. Other educational components, such as curricula and teaching methods. Special education centers around a process for evaluating your child and the development and provision of an individualized education program, or IEP. The acronym IEP refers to several inter-related things: the meeting where the school district determines whether or not your child is eligible for special education (called the IEP eligibility meeting) the yearly meeting where you and school representatives develop your child's educational plan (called the IEP program meeting), and the actual detailed written description of your child's educational program.
Special education then is essentially about the "what," the "where" and the "how" of your child's educational program as developed through the IEP process.
"Disability" Is a Loaded Term
Webster's New World Dictionary defines disability as an illness, injury or physical handicap which "restricts" or causes "limitations" and "disadvantages." Advocates in special education and disability rights understandably object to the term disabled, preferring the term child with disabilities -- this is the term we use throughout this book.
More importantly, all human beings come into this world with a variety of qualities and characteristics. Having special education needs does not mean that your child should be treated as "different" or denied the care and respect that all children deserve. Human beings are complex and a determination of who is able and "disabled" is an effort in futility. Franklin Roosevelt was president four times and could not walk. Stephen Hawking is severely disabled and understands the universe like few on this earth.
It is not a cliché to say that we all have some kind of disability, even as we realize that the difference in degree between one or another disability can be significant and life-altering. Defining terms should not be judgmental terms. I have many colleagues who are deaf. They are, to be sure, without hearing, but to consider them ineffective or incapable would be ludicrous. They cannot hear, but communicate in a beautiful, complex and effective way. In a meeting of deaf people, it is my halting sign language which is ineffective and disabling to me.
B. Special Education Basics
Special education laws give children with disabilities and their parents important rights not available to children in regular education and their parents. These include the right to:
*have the child assessed
*secure information about the child
*attend an IEP meeting
*develop a written IEP plan, and
*resolve disputes with the school district through an impartial administrative and legal process.
While the specifics of any one child's special education needs may vary -- one child may need placement in a private school while another needs a one-to-one aide for full-time participation in a regular class (called mainstreaming) -- mastering the IEP process is central to securing an appropriate education for your child. But equally important, the IEP process is entirely individual. The program developed by you and the school district must fit your child, not the other way around. What works for other students is irrelevant if it won't work for your child. IDEA was written in a way so as not to tell you or the school district specifically how your child will be educated. Rather, IDEA provides rules to govern the process, so the IEP team decides what is appropriate for your child.
C. Being Your Child's Advocate
Advocating for your child is easy. You want the best for her. Still, there will be bumps along the way. The IEP process is maze-like, involving a good deal of technical information, intimidating professionals and confusing choices. For some families, it goes smoothly, with no disagreements; for others, it is a terrible encounter in which you and your school district cannot even agree on the time of day. For most people, the experience is somewhere in between.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking that teachers, school administrators and experts know everything and that you know nothing. Right now, you may not have all the information you need and you don't know where to look for it. But the law states that you and your school district are equal decisionmakers, and, further, that the school district must provide you with a good deal of information along the way.
You do not need to be a special education expert or a lawyer to be an effective advocate for your child. The general strategies for helping a child in the IEP process are not complex and can be easily mastered. The cliché that knowledge is power is absolutely true in the IEP process.
D. Using This Book
The purpose of this book is to help parents effectively proceed on their own through the IEP process, whether it's the first time or the fifth time. The book is for parents whose child has a mild or severe learning disability, has emotional difficulties, is deaf or blind or has other physical conditions, or has a multitude of disabilities. In other words, it's for every parent of a child with disabilities.
Specifically, this book can help you:
*develop an understanding of special education law
*understand eligibility rules and the role of assessments
*gather current and develop new information and material about your child -- become an expert about your child
*determine your child's specific goals and educational needs
*gather current and develop new information and material about various school programs, as well as options outside the school district
*prepare for the IEP meeting
*attend the IEP meeting and develop your child's IEP plan, and
*resolve disputes with the school district.
Mastering these tasks requires you to be generally organized (but not fanatically so), willing to ask questions and make use of resources that are widely available. The suggestions and forms in this book will help you get -- and stay -- organized throughout the IEP process. Because organization is half the struggle, this book focuses with equal vigor on what the law means and how to organize yourself around the law.
Detailed Appendices provide invaluable information, including:
*copies of key federal special education statutes and regulations
*addresses and Web sites of federal and state special education agencies
*addresses and Web sites of 125 national and state advocacy, parent and disability organizations
*a bibliography of other helpful books, and
*two dozen tear-out forms, letters and checklists to help you through every stage of the IEP process.
Some of the material will be very familiar to parents who have been through many IEPs -- for example, you may already know too well the list of characters and the basic legal requirements. Still, we recommend that you review each chapter, even the ones with which you are familiar. We may have new insights or angles on old problems. Of course, you can skip material clearly not relevant -- for example, if your child is already in special education, you don't need to prepare for an eligibility meeting. If you are new to special education, very little in this book will be familiar to you. We suggest that you first take a quick look at the chapter titles and table of contents to become familiar with key ideas and how they relate to each other before you start reading. As you read, check the index and jump among chapters if it makes sense. Highlight points you want to remember and note in the margin the page numbers of related topics in other chapters.
The special education process has a discernible beginning and end. In general, it takes a year. There are similarities and differences between the first IEP year and subsequent years. For example, each year you will gather information and prepare for the yearly IEP program meeting, at which time you and the school district will determine placement and related services. But the first year always includes assessing your child and determining whether she is eligible for special education. In subsequent years, your child may or may not be assessed. Eligibility is rarely addressed after the first year, unless you or the school district feels a change is justified -- for example, if your child no longer needs special education or may qualify under a different eligibility category. There is a certain chicken-or-egg quality to some of the chapters. For example, the chapter on assessments comes before the chapter on eligibility. You will soon learn that your child must be assessed before determined to be eligible, but you need to know how a child becomes eligible before you arrange an assessment. Which chapter do you read first? It really doesn't matter, as long as you read both.
Scope of This Book and IDEA
IDEA provides rights and procedures for children between the ages of three and 22. There is as well a procedure for children under three, but this book's fundamental focus is on children between three and 22. There are also certain IDEA issues which involve very complex and detailed procedures which are only briefly discussed in this book, such as transition services to help children over age 14 prepare for a job or college, including independent living skills. This book does not address in detail issues regarding discipline of special education students, including suspension and expulsion. This issue is complex; you should contact an attorney or at least a support group (see Appendix 3) regarding discipline issues. (20 U.S.C. §1415 (k); 34 C.F.R. §3300.519-529; see Appendix 1.)
Posted January 8, 2008
This book is too general and doesn't address the details of how to advocate through the system for your child's best interest.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 24, 2014
This has been a fantastic reference to help us navigate through the red tape at our childs school. Every parent needs to know theirs and their childs rights!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 17, 2009
This book helped me through my toughest trials. I was able to get paperwork that I never thought I can get. This book also helped me through my meetings and gave me a better understanding of what I was getting into.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 5, 2009
As the parent of a deaf child, I re-read this every year in the days before the annual IEP meeting. While of course, not all the info is going to apply to every family's individual situation, this book definitely helps me to feel more prepared to advocate for my daughter.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 3, 2008