Transitioning from Early Intervention to Public School Programs (page 2)
The shift from early intervention (EI) to the public school program is one of the most important transitions in your child’s education.
How you approach this negotiation, how educated you are coming into the discussions, how well versed you are in your child’s needs—all of these elements will infl uence the outcome. This is the time and place where you set the stage for future interactions with the school.
Many of the tools and working strategies you already know through your involvement with the EI team will be invaluable. Many parents get lost at this stage because they don’t trust the knowledge they’ve gained about their child; they assume “others” know better and give in to their ideas, even when they don’t feel right for the child. Parents who are successful advocates for their child let their knowledge guide their actions and decisions, always putting the spotlight on their child’s needs and keeping their egos in the background. The rest is learned: how to negotiate with the school, the child’s rights under federal legislation, when to be forceful and when to back off, etc. Melding that procedural knowledge with your intimate knowledge of your child is what brings about the type of success you want for your child.
What are the differences between EI and public school programs?
Some differences are obvious and some are nebulous. Some differences are purposeful and others arise when the public school program falls short of its mission and intended structure. Among the differences you might notice:
- A shift in focus from family needs to services only for the child
- A shift in where services are provided
- Teachers replace parents as the child’s primary learning guide
- Parents no longer qualify for direct training on issues related to the child’s behavior, communication, social skills, sensory needs, etc.
- Related services are reduced to those that mainly impact the child’s education
- Unless the child has an aide, reduced one-on-one attention and more teaching within a group setting
- A shift in the teacher’s expectations of the child
Is the school now “in control” of my child’s education?
Yes and no. Parents are equal partners in the education process, but federal and state legislation puts the onus on schools to provide for the education of the child. Parents want what’s best for their individual child, while schools are obligated to provide an education according to guidelines written for the majority of children. As you can imagine, these two positions can often be at odds with each other, and school “politics” are a very real factor in decisions made. Most school systems take the reins, assume that as “educators” they know what’s best for children and steer interactions from this point forward until the child graduates or ages out of the system.
Where do I, as the child’s parent, fit into this process?
You are a mighty force in securing the best possible education for your child. You are the person most knowledgeable about the child and need to be his strongest and sometimes fi ercest advocate. Many parents assume the school will do this also.
Sadly, the reality is that the majority of schools will do only enough to satisfy the law and many do much less. From a legislative perspective, the onus may be on the public school to provide an appropriate education, but in real life, it’s up to parents to be the driving force to assure the child receives everything to which he or she is entitled.
Is there still a team working with the child, and a services plan that guides them?
The language and terminology in public school programs shift a bit, but the structure stays pretty much the same. The IFSP (Individual Family Services Plan) becomes the IEP (Individual Education Plan); the EI team becomes the IEP team. A case coordinator is still in place, although the professional’s responsibility rests more with managing the schooland related-services personnel, since the school is now responsible for coordination of services. The IEP team operates in a similar way, but meets less frequently, sometimes only once a year unless a situation arises that warrants discussion or a parent requests an IEP meeting. The IEP document still contains goals and objectives for the child, describes in detail the education plan for the child, related services agreed to, and how and when progress will be measured.
Will the team provide the education I need to understand this transition?
To a degree, yes, but probably not in the detail you would like or need. As a rule, the responsibility rests with parents to become educated about the federal laws governing the rights of the child and the provision of services, to learn the school “culture” as it relates to special education services, and to seek outside help for family issues or challenges that are not directly related to the child’s education.
Whose responsibility is it to make sure the child’s program is right for the child?
Responsibility rests with all members of the IEP team to create a program that fi ts the child’s learning needs and teaches the child to be successful in all aspects of the educational program. However, parents are the driving force in assuring their child gets the best possible education to which he or she is entitled. Don’t assume the school will make this happen on your child’s behalf. Be proactive, not reactive.
Do I have options as to which school my child attends?
To some extent, yes. As part of the transition to public school, parents should investigate schools in their area. In most cases, a child with ASD will be enrolled at the school that other children in the family’s neighborhood attend. With the child who is eligible for special education services, however, parents should be sure that the school is capable of providing the educational services the child needs. If not, the IEP team should consider other schools and/or programs that do. That doesn’t always happen, though; most schools will tell you their program is suitable for your child. It behooves parents to research other options before the fi rst meeting with the IEP team. Visit your local schools, observe their programs and meet the teachers. Assess how you think your child will fare in this environment.
How do I know if the program is right for my child?
The same components of a good EI program and the personnel qualities that make a great team apply to a public school program. In addition, there are other variables that contribute to a program’s success. In my experience working with the ASD population, the following 10 program elements should be considered:
- Low student/staff ratio
- Suitable class make-up
- Appropriate age range
- Skill levels of current students
- Related services offered
- Autism-trained professionals
- Appropriate classroom structure
- Regular accountability
- Well-defi ned behavior management approach
- Effective collaboration among staff
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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