Monthly Archives: August 2012

Is that a question? Communication tips for parents

Parents generally contact ECAC when things are not going well with their child’s education.  Ineffective communication is often a part of their frustration.  Today we will look at the use of questions versus statements.  The distinction between the two is usually taught in first grade, but as an advocate for your child, it is important to know when it is better to choose one over the other.  This is especially important during parent-teacher conferences or IEP meetings.

Don’t ask a question when you are trying to tell someone something.  I often share the story about a meeting that I had with my son’s 3rd grade teacher after weeks of spending entire evenings struggling with him over homework.  My son has ADHD and a learning disability in writing, and it took him three times as long to get work completed.  Evenings had become miserable for both of us.  After meeting with the teacher and learning that she expected the average child in her class to spend 45 minutes to an hour completing homework, I told her that we were going to spend no more than two hours on homework from that date on.  The madness had to stop, so I did not give her an option.

Sometimes parents really want something to happen for their child and they ask ” can we…”, “how do you feel about…”  and other questions, when they could more effectively make statements such as, “Michael needs…” or “I think it would work better if…”.  There is a place for the other approach, but if you have already made up your mind about something, it’s okay to be more assertive with your communication.  Asking questions in a certain way gives people the opportunity to say “no”, and you don’t want to do that if “no” is not acceptable.

On the flip side, there are times when parents are seeking information, but they make statements that don’t require a useful response.  A statement that, “I don’t see why…” might sound like a request for an explanation, but it leaves enough room for other participants in the conversation to treat it like it was a personal observation that could be acknowledged without further comment.  Asking the question, “why…?” has a much better chance of producing more information or greater insight.  It’s hard for people to ignore a direct question without appearing to be rude.  Don’t forget to ask follow-up questions if more detail is needed.

The bottom line is to not expect other people to read your mind, or to  know what you “mean”.  Say what you mean and ask for the information that you want to get.  Re-word and try again if necessary.  That’s a whole lot better than being ineffective and feeling frustrated.

Did you get that?

Dust off that IEP!

 

 

It’s time for back-to-school and also a good time for parents to review their child’s  IEP.  First of all, it’s probably  been a while since you looked at it and time has a way of fading memories.  Secondly, you should check to see if that IEP will meet your child’s needs for this new school year.  If you feel that changes are needed to the IEP, you can request an IEP team meeting.  Here are some key sections of the IEP to read over:

 

Present Level of Academic and Functional Performance (PLAAFP).  Depending on how long ago the IEP was written and the amount of progress your child has made, these statements may provide a poor description of your child.  One would hope that this year’s teachers would look at the IEP progress reports as well as the IEP, but you can’t count on that.  If there is a real disconnect between the PLAAFP and your child’s current functioning, you should communicate that to the teachers so that they can plan appropriately.

Annual Goals.  For each annual goal, check to see if your child is making progress at a pace that will allow him to reach that goal by the time the IEP expires.  If progress has been much slower than expected, you may want to talk with the teachers or therapists about what can be done differently to get better results (e.g. Different strategy? More service time? Individual vs. small group instruction?).   If your child has already reached the goal, consider setting a new goal at a higher level.  Is there a skill area not currently covered by the IEP that should be added?

General Education Program Participation.  Are any changes needed in the parts of the school day that your child is in the regular education or special education setting?  Do the accommodations, modifications, supports and/or assistive technology match up with what your child will need this year?  The expectations and demands change as students move from grade to grade.  Your child may be in a new school building.  If your child’s functioning has changed for better or worse, she may need different types of support now.

Specially Designed Instruction and Related Services.  As you think about the previous parts of the IEP, consider whether any changes are needed in the amount, frequency or location of your child’s special education and related services.

At the very least, looking over the IEP will remind you of what’s on it.  That should help you make sure that things are put into place properly at the beginning of the school year to give your child the best chance for success.  That will be a whole lot better than trying to fix things after there is a problem.

FAQ: Do I have to go on the field trip with my child?

Ask ECAC will occasionally discuss a situation or question that repeatedly comes to us from parents.  We will offer an answer that will be of use to the vast majority of our readers. As with all things related to special education and people with disabilities, there are factors unique to each child that may have some bearing on how to best handle your particular situation.

Question:  My 5 year old son has Autism Spectrum Disorder and he receives special education services at school.  His kindergarten teacher has already told me that she is concerned about my son’s safety and he will only be able to go on field trips with his class if I come along to personally supervise him.  Do I have to agree to this?

Answer: If extra conditions or restrictions are put on your son’s ability to participate in a school activity solely because of his disability, this would be considered to be a form of discrimination that would be inconsistent with  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  Section 504 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits any program that receives federal funds from denying a person with a disability the equal opportunity  to access, participate in, or benefit from that program.  Our public schools receive some federal funding, and any child that has an IEP is a person with a disability under Section 504.

One thing that you may want to do is call for an IEP meeting and make sure that your child’s IEP clearly includes field trips and extra-curricular activities as part of his General Education Program Participation.  Regardless of whether he will be taking the field trips with a special education class or a regular education class, any accommodations or supports that your child will need should be clearly listed and described.  Such accommodations could include things like:  close-proximity adult supervision at all times, preferential seating away from interior and exterior doors, or adequate staffing to allow for removal to another area, if  needed.  These accommodations are not on the drop-down box of the computer  programs commonly used for IEP writing, but they can be added as “Other”.   Also, preparation ahead of time so that your child knows what to expect, and communication with the teacher about how to handle some “what if…” scenarios should reduce the chances of running into any significant problems on the day of the trip or special event.

If you still find that there is resistance to including your child in these activities, discuss your concern with the school principal and, if necessary, your school system’s Section 504 Coordinator (they may be listed under “Federal Program Compliance” or some similar title).  In North Carolina there is a Section 504 Consultant at the Department of Public Instruction, but the entity officially charged with enforcing Section 504 in schools is the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education.  Formal Complaints about disability discrimination would need to be submitted to OCR for investigation.  Hopefully, things will be resolved long before that step becomes necessary.