In her last post, Parent Contributor Ellyn Levy discussed the experience of getting an initial Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for her teenage daughter. Now, Ellyn’s daughter is a successful college graduate, and Ellyn is back to share the lessons she has learned in advocating for her daughter throughout her learning disability (LD) journey.
Be prepared and know your rights!
It’s important to research your child’s rights so that you go into any meeting with your child’s IEP team as prepared as possible. In my experience, school district staff on the IEP team can be a bit pushy in regards to what they believe is in your child’s best interest and what they are able and willing to provide. They often wanted me to sign off on their plans as quickly as possible. Remember: you don’t have to sign or agree to anything you don’t feel comfortable with. The pressure to do so can be tremendous, so be aware that your child’s needs are at the heart of this—not the school district’s. Don’t be afraid to negotiate for what is best for your child.
Sow the seeds of self-advocacy in your child.
Older children should be encouraged to attend their own IEP meetings. It’s a great way for them to learn how to advocate for themselves, understand what the school district is offering to help them, and speak up about how they learn best. These are skills that will benefit them in the future!
Your child is an individual—her IEP should be individual too!
Every child learns differently, and there are many assistive technology devices to support their needs in and out of the classroom. Circumstances vary from child to child, and there is no perfect recipe for special education and learning styles. Perhaps your child needs an accommodation like a scribe in the classroom, special seating, extended test time, or a quiet space to take a test. Make sure whatever works best for your child is spelled out in his or her IEP, and that the accommodations offered aren’t just generic or pre-written.
Measurable progress is key.
It’s essential that IEP’s goals are measurable and observable in accordance with state standards. Make sure your child takes a pre- and post-test to determine if the subject matter that they were supposed to learn was actually absorbed. It’s not enough to assume that your child understood what the related service offered and that goals were met.
Be a partner with your child’s teachers.
Discuss the IEP with your children’s teachers—you can’t assume that all teachers will know what is in your child’s IEP. I was amazed to find out that teachers had not spent the time getting to know what my child required to learn best. You need to enter into a relationship with teachers early in the semester. Start by meeting early in the semester and don’t wait until your child may be struggling in class.
Don’t be afraid of transition—prepare for it!
Self-advocacy becomes even more important when your child enters college. The prospect of my daughter going to college without the proper support system was terrifying—as was the prospect of finding the right college that could provide adequate support. A friend told me about the University of Arizona’s Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques, or the SALT Center. It’s unlike any other program in the country, in that it offers students a learning specialist for four years, tutoring services, assistive technology devices, and a testing center. The student must be admitted into the SALT Center separately from the university, so there is another application that must be completed…but it’s worth it! There are many quality postsecondary programs where students with LD can be very successful—start your search early.
Disability can lead to ability.
When I think about what my daughter Jillian went through academically, I realize that she overcame huge obstacles. She has faced many challenges that help her cope with situations she faces now as a working adult. I admire her strength, intelligence, and unique persona. I strongly believe that her disability led to her ability to develop character that is priceless!
Ellyn Levy is a Speech-Language Pathologist, and supervisor of adult and pediatric speech pathology at a large NYC hospital. She is the parent of two adult children who, along with her husband, are the center of her universe. Her daughter had learning challenges from the time she was a young child. Ellyn has always believed that this fact has helped her relate more easily to the parents of the children she treats in her practice.