For the purposes of this assignment, I interviewed a teacher of a student with intellectual disabilities, in order to assess her opinion on the changes to the family structure that such a student would have. I then attended an IEP meeting wherein parents met with the teacher and other education professionals who are creating an individualized education program for that child, in order to address their learning through the lens of their learning disability. These meetings are meant to keep the parents in the loop regarding what their children are doing, and how they are progressing in these particular courses. In this assessment, the interactions and observations found in the IEP meeting will be recorded and examined, and recommendations will be made as to better ways to provide this information to the parents.
I interviewed a 4th grade special education teacher who primarily teaches children with intellectual disabilities. I asked her what the typical concerns are for an intellectually disabled child, and of a teacher in such a classroom. She responded that some of the biggest difficulties of her job are providing inclusive environments for her students, and bringing them into the conversation. She is tasked with taking a normal curriculum and modifying or adapting it to suit the needs of special education students. In the case of IEPs, further modification is necessary to suit the requirements of each type of disability each student has. She attempts to alter her expectations for each student, so that they are not pushed too hard in one direction, especially if their disability dictates that they cannot reach it.
When it comes to relating the intellectually disabled child with their parents, she finds that the ease with which she can communicate with the parents varies deeply. Depending on the parents’ attitude towards the child, they either treat them with kid gloves and provide adequate support in an emotional sense as well as practical, or they attempt to be as hands-off as possible, and often, as she puts it, ‘foists’ some aspects of parenting onto the special education teacher. When reporting to parents about how the child is doing in regards to their IEP, she eschews letter grades and percentages for written comments that detail the student’s achievement levels without having to place them on an unfair gradient for success (BCED, 2011). However, this does often make it difficult to gauge the progress of the student in their class, and the teacher is often unsure of whether or not they are receiving a fair grade that accurately assesses their ability. The teacher very much believes in the importance of the IEP, though she notes that it can be difficult to come up with unique curricula on a sliding scale for each student who needs one.
The meeting began as normal, with the parents of the child, a ten year old girl with autism, meeting with the child’s educators and education professionals, namely her teacher and her vice principal. They all seemed very cordial and welcoming, attempting to be open minded and becoming very well acquainted with each other. There was a bit of tension, however, regarding the father, who seemed uncomfortable to be there. He interacted little with the educators, mostly holding their child on his knee while the mother and educators talked, seeming disinterested or bored by the process, if not a little irritated.
The teacher and vice principal had very little written out or jotted down about their potential education plan for the child – there was a single piece of paper with a few talking points, the rest of the talking about potential strategies for the girl being seemingly improvised. It was clear that the educators had not prepared adequately for the meeting, perhaps as a consequence of home issues, but that is unclear. The mother seemed to be the person most clearly in charge of their child’s education.
Facilitation skills employed during the meeting were surprisingly minimal, perhaps as a consequence to the educator’s relative lack of experience performing the IEP (when interviewed, she had said this was her first year using an IEP). Tangents happened often, particularly when it came to the child’s apparent lack of progress in the IEP criteria. According to the mother, the criteria that the educator had delineated was far too generalized and difficult; for example, the child was meant to ‘attend and be attentive in class more often.’ The number of times the child attended the class were not addressed, nor was the criteria for ‘being attentive’ outlined properly. The educator was attempting to use a subjective scale for determining this, and in her estimation the child had not been attentive enough in class to qualify for meeting that criteria (Snowman & Biehler, 2006). The meeting went off task quickly, soon devolving into accusatory statements and judgmental assessments of the others’ character. Greater participation by the father, who was strangely soft-spoken and detached during the IEP meeting, could have helped to facilitate arbitration and create a more even tempered environment for the meeting. The needs of the child were not addressed or communicated adequately between either party, and the IEP meeting was adjourned abruptly, with a few vague promises by the intimidated educator to make their criteria more specific and easier on the child, something that should be avoided without clear, detailed promises for improvement in writing (Coleman, 2005).
The reaction of the father regarding his child’s education was blasé at best, which troubled me, as it is not a healthy way to facilitate an adequate system of support and advocacy for the child. The mother was the only one left advocating for the child’s welfare, which put a tremendous amount of strain on her. The mother, on the other hand, was far too overbearing and judgmental on the part of the educator, who was clearly inexperienced. While the educator had made some mistakes, the parents held little interest in coming up with workable solutions, choosing instead to make the IEP meeting into a session of berating the educator and simplify deriding them for not doing a good enough job. Both sides could have used more substantial and effective arbitration, and greater communication between the two forces. The educator was clearly out of her league in dealing with the parents, and the parents seemed to think that the IEP program was to speed up the child’s development, which was not happening.
For the teacher who has difficulty determining how to report the grades of their child to the parents, I suggest the continuation of detailed, written comments that have some sort of structure; this will allow the parent to learn more about how the child is doing without dealing with the stigma of a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ grade. The same kind of report card should be used for all students so as to avoid special treatment or stigmatization of the child; what’s more, if the child is expected to achieve the curriculum’s goals, include letter grades. However, stick to the structured comments in the event that the child is not expected to meet these goals otherwise, at least for the sake of the parents (BCED, 2011). This will avoid unnecessary anxiety and doubt as to the effectiveness of the IEP, leading (sometimes) overly worried parents to shift their child between IEPs, which could hamper the child’s education further. The student as well should be given as much of a say as possible regarding the scope of their education, so they can advocate for themselves how best to hone their education (Broer et al., 2005).
One of the most effective strategies that must be implemented is making the parent feel like a part of the IEP process. They are, after all, the primary caretaker for their children, as well as the primary advocate for the welfare of the child – particularly as the child does not have the necessary skills to communicate their own preferences adequately. It is of the best interests of all parties involved to make sure that feelings and emotions remain calm and even-handed, and that the focus remain on the children rather than letting it become about who is the better educator for the children. Compromises are an effective way to make sure that the child’s needs are met and that they are comfortable, while still making sure they are receiving an effective education.
The educator should allow the parents to get independent evaluations about their child’s intellectual development levels; this will allow other forces to determine how to begin, and you will get outside verification of how slowly or quickly the child can learn. This will help the educator form their IEP to the parent’s satisfaction, as they can fall back on that evaluation to determine the criteria for grading (BCED, 2011).
Above all, the IEP goals must be measurable and realistic. The child cannot be pushed too hard, or else criteria will fall behind, and the parents may become anxious as to both the development of their child and the educator’s appropriateness for their position. The goals must be specific, with certain education and behavior criteria that are divided into objectives and able to be checked off a list. With generalization comes nonspecificity, and it can be difficult to determine just how well the child is doing. Realistic goals that are delineated clearly can help the IEP assessment process go much more smoothly (LDA, 2011).
In conclusion, the IEP process can often be a troubled, unproductive one, given a decided lack of detailed strategy, effective communication and well-placed facilitation skills. Overly confrontational parents can be difficult to handle, especially when it comes to their child’s education. Remaining impartial and setting realistic goals for the child and the meetings can help to bring about better communication, and allow both parties to take a substantial role in the education of a child with intellectual disabilities.
Broer, S., Doyle, M. b., & Giangreco, M. (2005). Perspectives of Students With Intellectual Disabilities About Their Experiences With Paraprofessional Support. Exceptional Children, 71(4), 415-420.
Coleman, M. R. (2005). Academic Strategies That Work for Gifted Students With Learning Disabilities. Teaching exceptional children, 38(1), 28-32.
Foreman, P. (2009). Education of students with an intellectual disability: research and practice. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Pub..
Snowman, J., & Biehler, R. F. (2006). Psychology applied to teaching (11th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co..
Students with Intellectual Disabilities: A Resource Guide for Teachers. (2011). British Columbia Ministry of Education. Retrieved September 22, 2011, from http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/sid/
Successful Strategies for Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities. (2011). Learning Disabilities Association of America. Retrieved September 22, 2011, from http://www.ldanatl.org/aboutld/teachers/understanding/strategies.asp