A Time for Change… Student-Led Individual Education Plans

Guest Blog Post by: Bev Clarke, Executive Director of LDAWE

Self-AdvocacyHaving reviewed many Individual Education Plans (IEPs) that indicate the student should develop better self-advocacy skills, I am always curious to know how the student will learn to be an effective self-advocate.   Whose responsibility is it to explain the student’s learning disability; the legislation that outlines his/her rights; the services / supports / accommodations available; relevant language; and ultimately the policies and procedures to be followed, when engaging in self-advocacy? Is the psychologist that diagnoses, the parent, the teacher, the school administrator, or outside agency such as the Learning Disabilities Association responsible for teaching the student to be an effective self-advocate?

How do we measure whether the student is becoming a better self-advocate?  Is it when the student requests the accommodations and support outlined in the IEP that was prepared for student by an educator, in consultation with a parent?  Is it when the student is able to work independently in the classroom?  Is it when the student is able to get what they need in classroom without demonstrating or causing frustration? Or… is it when they are able to effectively contribute and direct their own IEP?  The Ontario Government’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) A Resource Guide (2004) indicates that principals are required to ensure that those students over 16 years of age must be consulted in the development of their IEP.  The Guide further indicates, “that any student for whom an IEP is being developed should be consulted to the degree possible.”  So, when and how does this begin?

I am the "I" in IEPI have had many conversations with parents, educators, other professionals, who suggest that the child may be too young to understand his/her learning disability; however, when speaking to very young children, they are clearly able to identify their strengths, and more specifically their differences, and while I wouldn’t expect a primary student to be able to say “I have central auditory processing disorder, which makes it difficult for me to prioritize noise in the classroom, so it would be very helpful to me to have access to an FM system,”  I would expect a primary student to be able to say, “I can’t pay attention when there is too much noise.”  They may not know all the educational and disability lingo and possible solutions to addressing their learning needs, but they recognize their differences very early.  Self-advocacy instruction and support should begin early.

The United Nations adopted the motto Nothing About Us, Without Us for International Day of Disabled Persons in 2004.  Observance of the Day was intended “to focus on the active involvement of persons with disabilities in the planning of strategies and policies that affect their lives.” The motto relies on the principle of participation and has been associated with the global movement for individuals with disabilities to achieve full participation and equalization.  I would argue that direct instruction and support is required for many students with learning disabilities to have full participation in the development of their IEPs and to develop the skills and acquire the knowledge to become effective self-advocates.

Student Led IEPThe IEP is arguably the most important document developed regarding the student with exceptionalities at school. The IEP meeting provides an opportunity to discuss critical issues and make decisions regarding specific accommodations and support services.  Creating the IEP without the student or with only token involvement teaches the student that his or voice is not important (Hawbaker, 2007); it is important for students with learning disabilities to not only be the receiver, but the author of their accommodations (McCarthy, 2007) and observing the student’s ability to meaningfully contribute to the IEP provides the school team with a way to measure the effectiveness of the self-advocacy instruction.  The goal is for students with learning disabilities to move from others leading their learning to students leading their own learning, with IEP meetings providing an opportunity to practice their decision making skills and gradually increasing autonomy to promote increased self-responsibility (Connor, 2012).

Students cannot be expected to know appropriate meeting protocol, systems, policies and procedures, and all the lingo the surrounds issues associated with education, disability, and legislation without instruction; however, they can be taught this information, with support and instruction from parents, educators, professionals, and local agencies. Developing effective self-advocacy skills as an elementary and secondary school student prepares the student to successfully advocate for themselves in a post-secondary environment, in the workplace, and in the community.

References:

Connor, D. (2012). Helping students with disabilities transition to college – 21 tips for students with LD and/or ADHD. Teaching Exceptional Children. 44, 5, 16-25.

Hawbaker, B. (2007) Student-led IEP meetings: Planning and implementation strategies – A case story. Teaching Exceptional Children Plus. 3, 5.

McCarthy, D. (2007). Teaching self-advocacy to students with disabilities. About Campus. 12, 5, 10-16. doi:10.1002/abc.225.

Living with Dyslexia – Part III

 What to do if you think your child may have Dyslexia.

 As a Learning Support teacher, I see a lot of children that have difficulty learning how to read. I work with these children to help them learn the rules of our language. Although these children are often extremely bright, the standard ways of teaching these concepts do not seem to do the trick.

The story at schools is so often the same: Teachers are hesitant to give poor marks to students that know the work, yet are unable to write it down or read the content. Even though the student may be reading or writing two or more years behind grade level, they seem to know their stuff and can recite their knowledge orally. This is actually really good assessment – being able to give oral answers is a very popular way of extracting information from students with Learning Disabilities. However, in the primary grades if a student is reading and/or writing well below grade level it can seem devastating. Our schools are experiencing a seemingly ever-increasing amount of students with special needs. These needs are complex and must be addressed for the safety of the student, the student body and, often, the staff. Many of the children with very high needs are waiting to be tested, and will be high priority.

 What does this mean for students with reading/writing problems?

 We know that many children with reading difficulties exhibit similar symptomology:

  1. They are very bright

  2. They have a hard time reading

  3. They often have difficulties with writing

…and many more that depend on the individual child.

Since we are dealing with bright children, they get by. Teachers give them extra time and accommodations such as oral answers, etc. The problem with this is that they will never get identified by the school if they are passing. In order to be referred for further testing a child must be receiving R’s and D’s.

Many parents (with the required resources) address this issue by pursuing private psychological testing. This is often a much quicker path to identification by the school. The school can use the report to identify the student with an exceptionality in a quick meeting called an IPRC (Identification, Placement and Review Committee). Once the identification is in place, an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is developed by the student’s teachers and the LST. This plan helps to address the individual learning needs of that particular student (using recommendations from the psychological report).

 If you wonder if you should be looking into private testing or being a stronger advocate for your child’s learning at school, take a look at this website. It offers many suggestions on what to look for when your child is having difficulties with reading and writing.

 http://www.dyslexia.com//library/symptoms.htm

 Never hesitate to advocate for your child. They need you!

The Importance of Self-Advocacy

knowledge_is_power1The more you know something or have a keen awareness of a subject, the more comfortable we are talking about it. These discussions are valuable for solving problems that may arise.

In the case of having Dyslexia – talking about the fact that he has a problem with reading, spelling and writing, my son Donny has decided that this disability is becoming more like a challenge accepted.

 I believe that his knowledge and awareness of his own unique challenges have helped him to become a more confident individual. He sees Dyslexia as a challenge in that he has to figure out how to take a task (like reading a novel) and make it work for him (buy/download the MP3 file of the that book, start earlier and budget more time, etc.). This is what teachers have been trying to do for ages!

 Since he was diagnosed and identified with Dyslexia, he has been kept informed of all the information he could handle at that time. In grade four he knew that he had a really difficult time reading, spelling and writing, but that was it! He did well in math and all his other subjects, as long as text was read to him.

 By grade eight, Donny was attending his own IPRC and helping decide his pathway based on recommendations made by the Learning Support Teachers, Counsellors, etc. He was also a strong advocate of his Individual Education Plan. He knew what was on it and what was best for his learning.

 Donny was a graduate of the Orton-Gillingham program and is familiar with the program so he has been encouraged over the years to help with tutoring (by listening to young students read). He also has the opportunity to sit on the Board of Directors for the Learning Disabilities Association – Windsor Essex as the students representative.

 Each experience and each chance to learn about LDs empowers him even more. He has been on The

Donny Rotary

Bridge radio show on CBC radio and was featured in Communiqué magazine. Last night I was very proud of him as he spoke in front of a group of Rotarians about his Learning Disability and the challenges he faces. He did a great job!

If your child is able to understand information about his or her learning challenge, empower them! Simplify things, but let them know that their challenge is not with everything – it is specific. This can create a shift in attitude. The idea that there is only a couple of challenges to face the task seems more manageable than if you feel that you don’t understand anything.

Empower your child! Talk with them about their learning issues. They will know what they are good at and what they have a hard time with. You can guide them through the tough parts and help to find strategies that will work for them. As they get older, ideally they will adopt these strategies as their own and know what works best for their own learning.

 quote-knowledge-is-power-rather-knowledge-is-happiness-because-to-have-knowledge-broad-deep-helen-keller-345698

 

Climbing down mountains

 

Today marks my 8th blog post; I want to start working up to something different for my 10th post.  I am well aware of habits and routines, and how a routine becomes a habit.  Each of my posts have been written once a couple days before my post, then almost entirely rewritten the morning I post.  Each of my posts have featured a picture of some sorts and about 1000 words (wow, that’s already 8000 words, mainly about myself.)

When I applied to be an author for this post, I offered my perspective as a person with AD(H)D and a teacher.  As I can recall, the majority of my family’s struggles were related to school.  I never had any issues with sports, friendships (when I was young) were never difficult, and I did help out around the house about as much as any other kid.  I can remember the fights, the tears, and the pains from bringing home notes, report cards, and calls home from school.  They have been such a part of my mother’s life that she retells the stories like an old war veteran, rocking on her front porch chair.

I’ve already shared many of the stories with you; the non-existent support, the overly intimidating IPRC meetings, the time I did get support, etc.  What I didn’t tell you is the problems other parents face.  I write these blogs every day from my own perspective, my own life, my own problems.  Solutions that I have brought forward are not universal, they may not even be transferable; it’s just a perspective.

This brings me to my topic de jour.  Although we are all different, and we each bring with us our own strengths and weaknesses, there are some universal solutions we can, will, and do adopt.  During my years as a student of our province’s educational system, some of these solutions were only in their infancy, others were not even a twinkle in the ministry’s eye.  

First, and most importantly, is differential instruction.  This idea is so simple, yet so oddly new that education systems in the United States are only now beginning to adopt it.  Differential instruction is using a variety of teaching and evaluation methods based off of the concept that every student learns differently.  This idea was only accidentally used when I was in school, and before that, teachers were taught how to deliver instruction in almost a militant form.  By using DI, students are able to learn the way that best suits them, and demonstrate their knowledge in their strongest form.  For some students, reading is easier as a learning tool, while others learn better with open discussions.  When it comes to evaluations, you may find that one student can show her knowledge better on paper, than in practice.  DI is all about finding the best in the student, not the comfort zone of the teacher.

For the students that require more than DI (or teachers that do not use DI), we now inact individual education plans (IEP.)  This program is fairly new as it did not exist when I was in school.  IEPs are created when students are struggling to perform but do not have a formal diagnosis.  This is very useful in cases where students may either not have an identifiable disability or there is a large wait time for a formal psychological evaluation.  They may include some alternate forms of evaluation, or accommodations; some may include, using a computer instead of handwriting tests, have a scriber in class, and relearning past curriculum.  The latter seems to be one of the most alarming for parents, as I will discuss.

The Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC) is very similar to the IEP with a few additional doors that open.  Where DI is implemented by the teacher by choice, and an IEP mandates that teacher to use DI, an IPRC identification is a legal mandate to the board and teacher that they must use DI to accommodate a student.  I currently provide tutoring and advising services for parents that have students that learn differently, and as part of that position, I always recommend that parents pursue IPRC whenever possible.  With a formal IPRC identification, students are allowed extra personal resources that may not have been available before.  Unfortunately, many parents with these students are told that there is an exhaustive wait period before their students may receive a psychological assessment.  For some parents, this process may accelerated with a private psychological assessment.  Such assessments may cost more than $1500 and a full day of school/work; a cost that for many parents that is just too much to bear.

Within all of these acronyms and edu-babble, it all unfortunately boils down to the parent.  A parent that is well informed and involved will almost always find success with their student.  There are many teachers out there that work hard, and will ensure that every student is taught with DI.  But when things don’t go right, parents are always the first line of defense.  My parents were there for me, and my siblings, and we all made it through each finding their own success.  I advise many parents that are met with struggles, but find solutions with efficiency.  

As with being the strongest defense for their students, parents can also be the obstacle too.  Often parents are given unwanted advice and do not take the time to learn what it all means; such as medication, therapy, identification, or modification of curriculum.  When a parent hears about modification, they may think that their student is going to be pushed back a grade or two.  In reality, modification means that a student may learn grade 5 math, rather than grade 8, however, this is likely because the student has no knowledge of grade 5 math curriculum.  By continuing to push students in grade 8 math, those students that need to learn earlier math will continue to fail.

And in the end, the most important thing for a student to be successful in school, is confidence as a learner.  A student that brings home level 4+ in grade 5 math is much more likely to feel better about themselves than a student bringing home 1- and Rs in grade 8 math.  With the proper modifications and accommodations, along with some tutoring, those students can quickly catch up to their peers while building their confidence as a learner.

I can remember exactly when and how I started to fall behind in school.  I also remember when and how I regained confidence in myself as a learner.  For me, it was my 6th year in high school, and it happened the same year I was given the proper support I needed.  So, for the parents out there fighting, keep fighting; when you finally win that battle it will make a difference.  For those parents that feel lost, talk to someone, read some articles, and pick up a phone.  Communication with the school is always the first step, and knowing that you’re reading this blog, you’ve already started your research.  We’re all different, and it’s by understanding how we are different that we find our success.