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Home School and IEPs

February 21, 2012

Several weeks ago, Karla asked me to join a meme on IEPs–Individualized Education Plans — for kids with special needs. I’m not good at memes because it is often hard to contribute in a timely fashion. But I think this one is important enough to get to, even if I’m late! And if you want to toggle over to Karla’s post on this subject, you can follow her links to others who’ve blogged recently on the subject of their child’s IEPs.

In this post I’ll talk about my experience considering whether to write an IEP in a home school setting. In the next post, I’ll talk about Joy’s IEP in public preschool.

If your child isn’t school aged yet, you may still be familiar with the basic concept of an IEP from your experience the Family Services Plan under which your child receives Birth-Three services, or perhaps the goals set by your child’s private therapists. The IEP addresses similar things: the services and accommodations your child will receive and the goals he will work toward in a school setting.

In my state, home schoolers are not required by law to create IEPs. But even though the law here is home school-friendly, if you find that you are not doing your child’s yearly standardized testing at or near peer-grade level, you might want to consider writing an IEP for your private use now, and potential reference in the future if you ever need to justify your curriculum choices and accommodations.

Why? When a child is transferred from one school to another in our state, the home school is treated administratively like any other school. The new school is legally obligated to consider an IEP for the child if he is on an IEP at his or her previous school.

IEPs are the language schools use to communicate with each other about necessary accommodations. If your child doesn’t have a written IEP, the school is not obligated to take up the question of whether your child needs one until you raise the question. In practical terms means, this means the school must be convinced the child needs one.

I have zero doubt that if I showed up at a new school with Joy in her wheelchair without an IEP in hand, it would not be hard to convince the powers that Joy should be evaluated for an IEP.

But Hope’s disability is invisible. While I was making accommodations for her attention span and energy level as I taught her at home, when I considered the number and the magnitude of the accommodations I was making compared to those listed on Joy’s IEP, I wasn’t sure that Hope’s needs rose to the level of needing a written IEP.

To double-check my impression, I went to the Homeschooling Kids with Disabilities website and scrolled through their IEP templates (on the left sidebar under “accommodations.”) While I saw that I could write Hope an IEP (as her school, it was within my legal right), I didn’t think she would necessarily need an IEP at our local neighborhood school –which has classes structured to accommodate kids learning at different levels within the same grade. So I decided not to write her an IEP encoding the accommodations I was making at home.

IEPs do another important thing: they associate the child’s diagnoses and current levels of functioning with the accommodations necessary to help the child learn. So that question was still open: if Hope did not need an IEP, would I voluntarily disclose her diagnoses to the district? And if not on an IEP, then, how?

I asked the advice of the psychiatrist we were seeing and was advised us not to tell the school anything. I considered her rationale: that doing so might be unfairly prejudicial since Hope’s standardized testing scores indicated she’d likely do well academically. But I also considered that this doctor had not known our family very long, had opined that Hope’s reported alcohol exposure was “trivial,” had never seen her dissociate or rage, and was still entertaining the idea that Hope’s main problem was us, her parents.

I talked it over with my husband and we decided not to take her advice. It is not unusual that the early elementary years are easier (at school) for kids with FASD. They may not start struggling until later.  But what would I do if/when I thought Hope was struggling and I had not informed the school?  How could they participate intelligently as team-members in her education if my husband and I, the team leaders, withheld key information?

And I could not be certain she would not struggle, because among other accommodations home schooling families routinely make for their children is making curriculum choices suited to each child’s learning style. I could not be certain that Hope’s academic successes were not in part due to favorable choices we had made at home.

I also remembered our first three years of parenting –how baffled and frustrated we were before we gave up parenting her as if she was neuro-typical. I imagined the same thing could happen with Hope’s teachers. By the time we got to the point of considering an IEP, they might feel frustrated with her and negative about us withholding information that might have made a difference in how they tried to teach her.

So we decided to share.

Without an IEP, there was no obvious way to communicate Hopes diagnoses in writing. But we decided to take advantage of any natural openings, and if none of those presented, to talk directly with her teacher. Both happened. We were asked to complete an informal “Help Us Get to Know Your Child” form that asked about health and behavioral history. Then, at the end of Hope’s second week of school, I asked for a conference with her teacher and we talked about Hope’s diagnoses and what she was observing in the classroom.

In our case, disclosure was right, even without an IEP. Her teacher had already identified that Hope’s attention tends to drift and has relocated her desk to the front row. That’s an accommodation that could be written into an IEP. But her teacher didn’t need an IEP to make the change. She also noticed that Hope does better with executive functioning (like remembering to take her turn-in folder out of her backpack) with reminders. So she reminds her. The class room is already very structured –actually more so than home school because the teacher has 21 students to manage, not two. Hope was identified for reading intervention and along with a couple of other kids in her class who are also not on IEPs, she spends 30 minutes one-on-one with a reading teacher every day.

The teacher’s opinion…. Well, I can only guess about how she might have perceived Hope if we had not disclosed her diagnoses. Maybe things would be going well anyway. On the other hand, maybe the fact that she knows there’s more going on than meets the eye is helping her enjoy Hope’s successes. Hope is charming, doing well academically, fits in socially, and is not currently being triggered toward aggression or anger or disrespect by anything in the classroom or school environment. For the time being, she doesn’t need an IEP.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2012 2:30 am

    Sounds super wise. I’m so thankful you have such a caring and intentional teacher- I can’t imagine being responsible for 21 6-yr-olds and I’m glad she’s able to look at each’s needs.

    Hey, so I don’t think I’ve ever commented but- I’m Emily, I’m a 23 year old doctoral student in clinical psych in Oregon, and I think I linked to you from Dorothy? I read your blog every single time you update 🙂 and LOVE it. THANK YOU for sharing your lessons in suffering, sovereignty, faithfulness, and love. It has having an impact on my love for the Lord and for others- seriously- isn’t it fun the ripple effects we don’t even know about?! Also, I’m planning on doing my dissertation on attachment in adoption, so we should chat sometime.

    Anyway. Thanks for writing. Keep it up, and I pray for your family!

  2. February 24, 2012 4:23 pm

    Emily,

    Thank you for introducing yourself! If I was about half as old and had gone to grad school as planned, I think we’d be friends if for no other reason than you are reading some of my favorite books! (I clicked over to your blog.) You’d get why I got a little choked up a few months ago before our move when I rediscovered a box of books labeled “contemplative.” Enjoy them now while you still have some mental space in which to contemplate :).

    I’m enthusiastic about anyone studying attachment. Ten years ago, back when we first started investigating adoption, adoption professionals had just begun talking about RAD. But as best I can remember the information was limited to: 1.) RAD existed but was rare; 2.) only post-institutionalized kids were vulnerable to attachment issues and 3.) that “attachment” was the absence of RAD. To be fair, the whole field of attachment studies has blossomed into the mainstream during the decade I’ve been in the adoption world. Yet my heart still sinks at how widely under-educated on attachment new adoptive parents tend to be. Unfortunately, it still seems like it takes the adoption of a child who, to our surprise, struggles with attachment for a long time, for us to really “get” attachment. That makes me sad because I think fewer of our kids would struggle if we parents understood it from the very beginning. Then there’s the whole subject of how families with neurologically atypical kids may clear the adoption transition hurdle just fine, but then mutually struggle to stay/be attached when challenging behaviors present, then begin to grind on previously stable family relationships….You’ll find a lot remains to be studied and that many families would benefit from what you learn!

  3. Karla (Mom2MissK) permalink
    February 26, 2012 9:06 am

    I am sorry that I’m only getting to your blog now… My own Little Miss has been ill and my husband was out of town, and… and…

    So, I love this post. It speaks to a question that is every bit as important as the IEP – “to disclose or not to disclose?” Each time we receive a new diagnosis in Little Miss’s alphabet soup of diagnoses, I struggle with that question… How much DOES the school need to know to be able to provide for her education? Some diagnoses are a no-brainer – the recent epilepsy diagnosis must be shared; it’s a matter of safety. But what about the rest?

    It sounds like you have a great team that is really “in tune” with your daughter. I am happy for you for this blessing and hope that it continues for you as Hope grows!

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