Is it ADHD or something else?

137: Top 10 IEP Mistakes with Pete Wright, Esq.

Join us for an enlightening conversation with special education legend Pete Wright of Wrightslaw, unraveling the complexities of IEPs.

If you're a parent with a child who is in an Individualized Education Program (IEP), you're undoubtedly familiar with the challenges that come with ensuring they receive the vital support and resources essential for their educational journey. These difficulties typically involve a labyrinth of intricate protocols, ongoing dialogues with teachers and school officials, and the necessity to unravel the intricate web of educational terminology.

It's a journey riddled with hurdles, requiring parents to navigate with determination, resilience, and an unwavering commitment to their child's well-being and educational success. That’s why this is an episode you can’t simply miss as I am joined by the man, the myth and the legend in the world of special education – Pete Wright of Wrightslaw. His work has truly transformed our understanding of how to be our child's best advocate. And so, we hope you learn more about IEP from this discussion.

The importance of early intervention.

Back in the early years, Pete already experienced challenges in his journey as the educational system deemed him “uneducable” and emotionally disturbed, setting a discouraging tone for his educational prospects. However, his story takes a dramatic turn, thanks to the unwavering determination of his parents.

They embarked on a quest for answers and a path to educational success, seeking out a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation from George Washington University. This evaluation unveiled a complex web of learning challenges, including dyslexia, ADHD, and visual processing issues.

It all boils down to the great significance and transformative power of early intervention. The Orton-Gillingham approach, a specialized teaching method dating back to 1951, became the beacon of hope. Pete had an exceptional educator who took on the role of his tutor for two transformative years. His tutor’s goal was not merely to catch him up to his age and grade level but to propel him two years ahead in every subject. The result is remarkable considering that a comprehensive psycho-educational assessment in the sixth grade revealed that he scores consistently at or above the eighth-grade level in all domains.

Free appropriate public education and special education law.

Pete, with his decades of experience, understands the emotional turmoil that parents often deal with. And so, he brings his perspective to the table, one that encompasses not just the legal aspects but also the deeply personal and emotional aspects of advocating for a child with special needs. He emphasizes the importance of equipping oneself with a solid understanding of what the law mandates because being aware of one's rights and the rights of their child is a fundamental step toward ensuring that the IEP process is equitable and beneficial.

He highlights a common misconception among parents, which is the desire for the “best” program for their child. The key distinction here lies in the terminology. By law, case law, and statute, a child with special needs is not entitled to the “best” education. Instead, the legal entitlement is to a “free appropriate public education”. This seemingly subtle shift from “best” to “appropriate” holds immense significance. The term “appropriate” is far more flexible and context-dependent than “best.” It takes into account the child's unique needs and circumstances, allowing for a more tailored approach to education.

The crucial concept of FAPE, or “free appropriate public education,” represents the cornerstone of special education law. It's imperative for parents to comprehend this term fully and to leverage its definition during IEP meetings. FAPE encompasses the responsibility of the educational system to prepare children for further education, employment, and independent living, with the ultimate goal of enabling economic self-sufficiency.

The definition of “appropriate” education varies based on the nature of a child's disability. For example, a child struggling with dyslexia may require different services than a child with expressive speech issues or motor skill challenges. It is thus essential for parents to pinpoint the specific needs of their child to determine what is “appropriate” in their unique context.

Parental involvement in special education.

A prevalent mistake parents often make is asserting their knowledge of the law during IEP meetings. While understanding the law is crucial, pushing it too forcefully can create a confrontational atmosphere. School officials, who ideally should be collaborative partners in crafting an appropriate and effective IEP, might become defensive and uncooperative when faced with a barrage of legal arguments. The potential result is a breakdown in communication and a lack of willingness to work together to find mutually beneficial solutions.

Such an adversarial approach can significantly hinder productive discussions during the IEP meeting. It can obstruct the collaborative spirit necessary for creating a comprehensive and effective educational plan tailored to the child's unique needs.

Ultimately, the child may be the one who suffers the most from this adversarial atmosphere, as the focus shifts from addressing their individual needs to defending legal positions. The intended outcome of providing the child with quality services could be compromised, as the energies are misdirected towards legal debates rather than constructive planning.

Taking a proactive approach and evaluating children with special needs.

When parents find themselves in a situation where their child's education isn't progressing as it should, they need to take a proactive approach to address the issue. This often starts with a comprehensive review of the child's test scores, including both educational achievement and IQ testing.

Parents can utilize standardized educational achievement tests and IQ assessments to discern a child's processing issues accurately. Evaluation serves a dual purpose: to determine whether the child is eligible for an IEP and to understand the child's specific educational needs. It also sheds light on issues such as reading difficulties, math challenges, expressive speech disorders, and more, enabling parents to focus their efforts on the right aspects of their child's education.

Begin by going back to the initial testing that determined your child's eligibility for special education services. Analyze the test scores, looking at the actual scores as well as converting them to percentile ranks. This helps you track the child's progress over time and identify any patterns or trends. It's essential to identify where the child is struggling the most as this will provide a clear picture of your child's educational journey and whether they are making progress or falling behind.

If it becomes evident that the child's educational progress is not what it should be, and you're experiencing challenges with the school district, it may be time to consider obtaining a private sector evaluation. Look for an expert in the specific area of concern, whether it's reading skills, expressive speech, or another relevant area.

Consulting with a private evaluator.

A private evaluation can offer a fresh perspective and may help pinpoint the root causes of the child's educational struggles. Having an independent assessment can be a valuable resource when advocating for your child's needs and working with the school district to develop an appropriate IEP.

A private evaluation has the potential to significantly alter the way you perceive and tackle your child's educational difficulties. This impartial assessment offers a fresh and unbiased perspective that can help pinpoint the underlying causes of your child's struggles. With this extensive understanding, parents are better equipped to advocate effectively for their child's needs within the school system.

Keep your own documentation.

In your mission to advocate effectively for your child's education, it's essential to remember that assessing your child's educational journey goes well beyond merely keeping tabs on their progress. Data becomes a crucial ally in advocating for your child's education. It's not only about understanding your child's performance; it's about understanding how their achievements compare to what their peers are achieving. By having a more holistic view of your child's progress, you can pinpoint areas of strength and areas that might need further attention.

In essence, many people overlook the various types of data available. It's not just about standardized testing or school-based evaluations; it's about utilizing every resource at your disposal. Personal notes, anecdotal records, and even samples of your child's work all contribute to this comprehensive data collection. These data points are vital to ensure better advocating for your child's educational needs, empowering you to tailor their learning experience more effectively.

To learn more about IEP, check out these blogs:
504 vs. IEP
IEP Goals for Self-Regulation and Social-Emotional Learning

More podcasts on IEP:
IEP and 504 tips
IEP and 504 Tips from Special Education Attorneys

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