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Expert Tips on Creating Good IEPs for Kids with Autism

Embracing the "Individual" Focus of Individual Education Plans

September 01, 2010
What makes an IEP successful for Kids with autism and other Special Needs? By all accounts, measurable goals and a collaborative IEP team environment are two giant steps in the right direction. Still, there is more information parents should know about developing this important plan for their child. Following are key tips on how to create a successful IEP.

Know present levels of performance. To know where a child is going, the IEP team must know where the child is. Present levels of performance should be clear, measurable and written into the IEP.

Write measurable goals. "It is absolutely critical to have measurable goals," says Jane Grimes, community development director for the Applied Behavior Center for Autism and founder and president of Hamilton County Autism Support Group. A measurable goal is one that a teacher can count or observe.

Breanne Hartley, lead clinical director at the Verbal Behavior Center for Autism, agrees. "Measurable goals will ensure that a child's progress can be specifically tracked in order to determine if the goal has been mastered or if the goal has not been mastered within the allotted time that the IEP identifies. If the goal has been mastered, then a new goal can be put in its place to expand upon that skill area. If the goal has not been mastered, steps can be taken to determine why the goal has not been achieved, and as a result, different teaching methods can be assessed," she says.

Make it a comprehensive plan. Hartley suggests parents help create a comprehensive IEP for their child with autism with goals that address many areas of academic development. These may include speech/language goals, direction following goals, social and play goals, and any academic goals that are appropriate for the child's age and development level. In short, the plan should look at a child's diagnosis, break it down and address those issues.

Attach a time frame to goals. Kyle Mitchell, special education teacher and board certified behavior analyst at the Applied Behavior Center for Autism, recommends parents see to it that time frames more specific than a sweeping 2010/2011 school year be placed on each goal. This will help the child continue to progress rather than plateau or regress in the event they master a skill early in the year. If no specific timeframe is attached to the mastered goal, then the child risks losing the achievement because the school's focus may shift away from that task.

Be specific with goals. Mitchell says parents need to know what skill they want their child with autism to master and explain it well on the IEP. "To say you want your child to work on social skills tells you nothing. Say 'I want my child to work on responding to initiations for attention,'" he says.

Keep the "individualized" in the IEP. Parents should ask during the IEP team meeting if other kids in the classroom have the same goal or goals as their child. This will help the child avoid working toward cookie cutter goals that are not specific enough to his or her unique needs. Of course, the team cannot disclose who has what goals, but they can say whether or not another student has the same goal.

Track goals alongside state standards. Goals written into the IEP should connect to statewide standards for students at the child's grade level.

Say NO to rollover goals. Parents should not allow the same goals to rollover from one IEP to the next. Even if a goal is not yet mastered, write different methodology for achieving the goal into the plan. Include what methods have been tried, failed and need to change so there is a paper trail.

Sleep on it. If parents aren't comfortable signing the IEP at the annual team meeting, then they shouldn't do it. They can take it home, review it, and bring suggestions or questions back to the IEP team if necessary. Parents should, however, let the team know their intention to not sign it at the meeting so everyone is prepared.

Not signing the IEP is an option. What if a parent doesn't agree with an IEP? Then don't sign it. "Parents have to remember that they don't have to sign the IEP," says Mary Rosswurm, executive director of Little Star Center. The worst-case scenario is the school will have to fall back on the expired IEP, which the school and the state don't want to do.

Call a trained advocate. Grimes suggests parents call a trained advocate if they are concerned their child is not making progress, feel as though the teachers or school are not supporting what they want for their child, or are just overall anxious or confused about the IEP process. Support groups like the Hamilton County Autism Support Group, Autism Society of Indiana, About Special Kids and others are ready and able to support parents. "If you are worried and concerned and, in some cases, very upset, you do need an outside trained third party to help support you and understand what you want to get out of your case conference," she says.

Recognize the team. A collaborative and positive team environment is an important part of building a solid IEP. Parents should take the time with the team to recognize the work they've done and to celebrate successes.

Carrie Bishop is a freelance writer and mother of two young sons whose daily antics inspire her work and her life. Contact her at freelancewritercarrie@gmail.com

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September 2010 Special Needs Calendar

Check out what's happening this month for Central Indiana's special needs community...

What: Special Olympics Equestrian Championship

When: Sat., Sept. 11, 8 a.m.

Where: Hendricks County Fairgrounds, Danville

Cost: Free

Contact: Visit www.soindiana.org

What: Hamilton County Autism Support Group meeting

When: Sat., Sept. 11, 9 - 11 a.m.

Where: White River Christian Church, 1685 N. 10th St. Noblesville

Cost: Free

Contact: Visit www.hcasg.org

What: Preparing for Your Child's Special Education Case Conference training

When: Tues., Sept. 14, 6 - 8 p.m.

Where: Speedway United Methodist Church, 5065 W. 16th St., Indianapolis

Cost: Free for parents of children with disabilities

Contact: Mary Delaney at 317-569-9171

What: More Than Shared Classrooms: Down Syndrome Indiana's one-day conference for parents and educators

When: Sat., Sept. 18, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Where: Ruth Lilly Auditorium, Riley Children's Hospital, 702 Barnhill Dr., Indianapolis

Cost: $30

Contact: Visit www.dsindiana.org

What: 10th Annual Answers for Autism Walk

When: Sat., Sept. 18, 11 a.m.

Where: Coxhall Gardens, 2000 W. 116th St., Carmel

Cost: Donations

Contact: Visit www.aaiwalk.org

What: Special Olympics Torch Ride and Raffle

When: Sat., Sept. 18, noon

Where: O'Reilly Raceway Park and Southside Harley-Davidson and Buell, Indianapolis

Cost: $35 per rider

Contact: Visit www.soindiana.org

What: Roadmap to Special Education: Laws and Process

When: Wed., Sept. 22, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Where: Easter Seals ARC, 4919 Coldwater Rd, Ft. Wayne

Cost: $60

Contact: Register online at www.aboutspecialkids.org/training

Know of an upcoming event benefitting Indiana's special needs community? Email Carrie Bishop at freelancewritercarrie@gmail.com.

Tags: Kids, Local, Parenting, Special Needs

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