American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections Winter 2018 ADVOCACY
by Heather Field
From the Editor: The IEP meeting is an opportunity for parents to ask questions and make suggestions that will affect their child's education. It is wise for parents to prepare for the meeting by thinking about questions they need to ask and changes they may want to make. Recently a parent asked for suggestions about preparing for an IEP in a post to the Blindkid listserv, which is sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Here is her question and a response from Heather Field, who teaches blind and sighted students in Tennessee. You can sign up for the Blindkid listserv at www.nfbnet.org.
From: blindkid <email@example.com> on behalf of Judy
Sent: Sunday, September 10, 2017 11:05 AM
Subject: Questions for IEP
I have a nine-year-old daughter who is visually impaired. She has her big IEP meeting coming up in two weeks. Although she is provided with excellent services, as her parent I don't just want to go into this meeting sitting back with no questions to ask. Can anyone offer any good advice on how my husband and I should prepare to be our child's advocates? What are some good questions to ask? Thank you in advance.
From: blindkid <firstname.lastname@example.org> on behalf of Heather Field
Sent: Sunday, September 10, 2017 4:21 PM
Subject: Re: Questions for IEP
First, I strongly encourage you to get a copy of the IEP before the meeting so that you can review it and make additions and deletions. I advise parents with whom I work always to get a copy and to reschedule the meeting if they don't receive the copy. No one likes to reschedule, so the school usually will make sure a copy is forthcoming.
Another suggestion I would make regards the level and kind of involvement of an aide. If your daughter has an aide assigned to her, and I imagine she does, you need to know exactly what the aide does with and for your daughter. Where does she sit or stand? How does she interact with your daughter and the other students in the classroom? How much time does she spend in one-on-one work with your daughter and how much in preparing materials?
By this time your daughter should be working pretty much independently in the classroom setting. Her aide should be stepping right back and only intervening when your daughter needs assistance with an activity such as one where pictures need to be described. Your daughter can signal to her or him by an agreed-upon signal, that she has a question or needs help. The aide should mostly be involved behind the scenes, preparing materials. The aide should find out what drawings or diagrams, maps, science resources, etc. will be needed in upcoming lessons in order to prepare them for your daughter's use in class. It is desirable for an aide to be able to do Braille transcription, though many do not know Braille. It is very helpful if the aide can do the bulk of your daughter's resource preparation, thus freeing the teacher of blind students to give your daughter face-to-face time where needed.
Your daughter needs to be learning to advocate for herself in the classroom. She needs to learn to try a challenging activity before she asks for help. In small group activities she must learn to ask her peers for information and assistance without calling for intervention from an adult.
If the school still has the aide as involved now as she or he was in kindergarten, goals for the aide's stepping back are absolutely necessary. If the aide is still meeting your daughter at the bus, sitting beside her in the classroom, helping her in the cafeteria, and walking with her between rooms, it is time to put some new goals into the IEP.
When the time comes for this stepping back process, I recommend that parents purchase a copy of Carol Castellano's really great book, Making it Work: Educating the Blind/Visually Impaired Student in the Regular School. The book has an excellent and very comprehensive chapter on the role of the aide in the classroom. I recommend that parents give the book to the teacher of blind students, the student's classroom teacher, the special education teacher who collaborates in preparing the IEP, and the principal or deputy principal. If you can't give the book to everyone, photocopy the chapter about classroom aides. The teachers mean well, and they don't want to distress the student by removing supports. However, such supports are debilitating to the development of the student's independence in the educational setting if they are left in place when the student is capable of learning to function without them. The teachers need to be convinced that the process can be empowering for the student.
Teachers are usually willing to include goals on increasing the student's independence when they find such goals written for them in the book. They are reassured that the student will not be adversely affected if they see that the procedure can be done in a sequential and organized manner. If you believe it's time for these goals to be part of your daughter's IEP, but they don't appear in the draft the school has given you, speak to the special education teacher or classroom teacher. If they say that they don't believe such goals are necessary yet, you must prepare to present your argument in the IEP meeting. Provide a handout for the whole group containing the list of goals you've put together, taken from the information in Carol's book. Briefly talk your way through the list, explaining why you believe these goals are necessary. At times like these the low expectations that some educators hold for blind students may surface, but you can deal with them. You must be brave in the face of opposition, knowing that you are the expert on your child. What you believe about the competence of your child is based on the reality of what you see in your Federation family, collectively the experts on blindness.
In all the IEP meetings that I have attended with parents who have followed this procedure, teachers have agreed with our presentation and have included our goals. They are always more willing when parents have prepared in advance and they can simply copy the goals from a handout they are given. Teachers are very busy and overworked. This really shows at the beginning and the end of the school year, when so many IEPs must be dealt with.
Your daughter is fortunate to have parents who understand the importance of being equal partners in her education. All the best with your upcoming IEP meeting.