Across the nation, parents of children with disabilities are working with local school district representatives on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for their children. IEPs are the contract that the children (and their parents as guardians) have with local school districts that establish a set of expectations for the school district's services -- and goals for the student's progress.
The process is part of the legal right to a free and appropriate public education afforded children with disabilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 (with U.S. Department of Education regulations issued in summer 2006).
Wrightslaw.com, the well-informed legal and special education advocacy team of Peter W.D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright, have reminded their newsletter subscribers about a series of articles related to the IEP process, students' rights under that process and tips for what to do for IEPs. Whether you have a 3-year-old with a recent autism diagnosis and you need to start thinking about special education services or you are not satisfied with the progress your middle school student is making, even though she may be hitting the goals set out for her, these articles are worth scanning.
Because the work of diagnosing and treating autism spectrum disorders is rooted in observed behaviors, writing these performance goals in a precise way, so that it's clear to everyone what a child needs to do to make effective progress -- progress that can be observed (or clear lack of progress if things are not going well) -- is essential. So while these articles are relevant to all all children with disabilities, it's particularly important for parents of kids on the autism spectrum to familiarize themselves with the IEP process and the rules that govern it.
Among the Wrightslaw articles are:
* A good primer on writing effective goals, the benchmarks in your child's IEP that help you assess how the school year goes. See "What You Need to Know about IDEA 2004: Present Levels of Functional Performance & Functional Goals in IEPs," by advocate Pat Howey, by clicking here.
* A useful summary and explanation of the IEP process, with sections on IEP meetings, what's in IEPs, information about reviewing and revising them, school placements and transfers. See "IDEA 2004 Roadmap to the IEP," by clicking here. This additional article includes information about requirements for highly-qualified teachers and research-based instruction, with citations from the federal law.
* Information on draft IEPs, which are documents that school district representatives bring to IEP meetings. They are not binding, but some parents feel they have the effect of cutting off parental input. This article also by Pat Howey, explains why it's important to discuss the IEP before the IEP team assembles to discuss such a document.
It's free to sign up for the Wrightslaw.com newsletter and receive it via e-mail. Wrightslaw does a very good job of informing parents about their children's rights, explaining how to be advocates and also interpreting important court cases. When you see the promotions and ads on their website you will know that they also make part of their living from selling books, videos and seminars. I have read lots of their online articles and find them authoritative, but I haven't had the chance yet to read their books or attend a seminar.
You can find other information about IDEA in the Autism Bulletin sidebar, under "Resources" and "Government Related" headings. If you have trouble seeing any of that, let me know.