Expert: Stay involved with your special-needs child’s IEP
BY DENISE M. BARAN-UNLAND Correspondent September 18, 2013 1:10PM
Elizabeth Hooper | Supplied photo
Updated: October 20, 2013 6:38AM
Making sense of a special-needs child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be daunting, whether one is reading information for the child’s first program or 10th.
But at the Sept. 12 meeting of “Special Parents for Special Kids” in Joliet, educational consultant Elizabeth Hooper helped parents assess whether an IEP is meeting the goal for the child, and then discussed proactive strategies for communicating needs and goals with teachers.
“We often lead with our emotions when it comes to our children,” said Machell Klee, group founder and mother of an 11-year-girl with a seizure disorder, “and this can cause a communication and relationship breakdown among the IEP team.”
The jargon used in IEPs often sounds confusing, Hooper said, which may lead parents to believe that educators are the experts. That, she said, is not true. A teacher may be experienced in the special-education field but parents are experienced with their individual children, Hooper said. Parents should remember this when teachers are explaining concepts they are not comprehending.
“These are your children, and you are accountable for their lives,” Hooper said. “There is no decision that has to be rushed.”
Because special-needs children have a wide range of disabilities — from learning disabilities to autism — it’s important not to allow a “one size fits all” approach to a child’s IEP, Hooper said.
Although children may display similar disabilities, their families may have different goals and priorities, Hooper said.
As an example, every autistic child is not a flight risk but it is important to have a plan in place for those who are, Hooper said.
And eye rubbing might be a clue that a child did not complete his breakfast that morning and might need expectations adjusted for the day.
“For one family, how many times a child goes to the bathroom is a priority. For another, it is not,” Hooper said. “Some student reports done in the classroom will show that a child makes great eye contact, so you think, ‘Great! Goal met.’ Yet the child does not do as well on the playground.”
According to Hooper’s website at www.edconsultant.org, Hooper has a master’s degree in education, is certified to teach special education and English as a second language in Illinois, and she has an older brother with a disability.
Hooper has worked as a behavior intervention case manager in schools and taught special-needs students on job sites and in self-contained classrooms and inclusion programs.
As a consultant, Hooper also reviews records, coaches for positive behavior supports, and navigates the education process and tutoring.
For Klee, Hooper’s presentation was extremely valuable.
She learned the difference between accommodations and modifications, that goals drive the IEP, and that those goals should be measurable and should further education or teach skills for future employment or independent living.
Furthermore, if one wishes to change an IEP or to decline a change the school wishes to make, proof of need must be shown.
“Keep a paper trail and always follow through with phone calls and emails with your IEP team,” Klee said. “After all, you expect the same from them.”
Contact Hooper at 630-470-6877 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Machell Klee at 815-210-3557 or Specialkiddomom@gmail.com. Visit www.specialparentsforspecialkids.com.