A parent asks: I need some help. I’ve been fighting schools for ten years now and as my son is just beginning high school, they’ve informed me he’s cured and no longer needs his IEP. Is it possible to be “cured?” I’ve spent years working with him; he’s improved immensely. I’d love your thoughts on this.
Ellen answers: The Number One thing to remember about IEPs is that, as much as humanly possible, you must keep the discussion centered on facts, facts, facts. Personalities, egos, biases, opinions based on experiences with other children, etc. shouldn’t be part of the discussion. Do the facts of your son’s situation indicate that he still needs an IEP? Does the IEP contain exit provisions that have been met?
Many students progress through their school years to a degree that renders an IEP unnecessary. It isn’t unthinkable that your son may be one of those students. However, I can understand your skepticism, because the word “cure” carries the odor of avoidance, doesn’t it? Educators should no more pronounce a child “cured” of anything than they’d want your son’s doctor casting the deciding vote on whether your son is “educated enough” to graduate. Yet it may be that your school staff has simply made a poor choice of words. It’s critical to know what they mean by “cure.” Do they mean “can learn cognitively and function socially at grade level with the type of assistance available to all students?” Do they intend to transition him to a 504 plan, which offers fewer protections than an IEP, but more opportunity after high school? Or do you detect a subtler reason, such as “we don’t have the resources to provide the services he needs so we’re going to say he doesn’t need them?”
Before agreeing to discontinue your child’s IEP, ask the following questions:
Who evaluated my son to determine that he no longer needs an IEP?
What testing or measurement did the evaluator use to determine that my son’s autism is “cured?”
How does the test or evaluation data prove that my son’s learning ability is comparable to his age peers?
What transition services will you provide if my son leaves special education (particularly important if he’s been in a self-contained or very restrictive environment and would be transferred to the general school population setting)?
What action will the school commit to should my son regress?
Read up on the differences between IEPs and 504 plans, and examine your son’s last IEP to see if all the goals and objectives have been met. Know your rights within various jurisdictions of the law, as well as the school’s rights and responsibilities under those laws. When you have a firm grasp of these facts, if you believe your son still requires an individualized approach to his education, make your case and make it clear, firmly but respectfully, that you will pursue your options to the fullest extent available to you. Present your facts about his progress as they relate to his current IEP. Ask what specific resources will be available to your son should he no longer have an IEP, and get it in writing. If possible, record your meetings with school personnel. If you can’t, take copious notes, and that goes for phone conversations as well.
As much as possible, anticipate your educators’ arguments and roadblocks and have factual responses ready.
Throughout all of it, take the high road. Again, be polite, respectful but firm. Do not lower yourself to the level of anyone who attempts to exaggerate, underplay or sidestep your situation or to anger, confuse, needle or otherwise disrespect you or your son.
If you don’t get satisfactory answers, state, “That is not a satisfactory answer. What other options do you suggest?” You can courteously make it clear you will be persistent. Set dates for responses and follow-ups, then stick to them and be persistent about others sticking to their commitments to you.
Be willing to accept increments of change and challenge. High school is in fact a time when developing skills for independent adulthood kick into higher gear.
And don’t forget to allow your son to be part of the process to the greatest extent he is able. He has opinions, ideas, preferences, dreams, fears, questions and goals that everyone on his team needs to hear and consider. Legal adulthood is only a few short years away. Learning to self-identity and communicate his needs must be a top priority.
© 2014 Ellen Notbohm