Well Being

The Other Autism “E” Word, Again: Preparing for the IEP—The Positive Student Profile

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My son's next IEP meeting is not until the summer but I think about it, and his IEP, constantly: Special education law is not something only to study in preparation for the meeting, but all the time. Every family with an autistic child, no matter where he or she is on the spectrum, has a story of difficult and strained meetings with school district personnel who, one gets the district impression, does not have the best interests of one's child in mind (whatever they may say).

The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) has a series of Parent Guides that have some extensive suggestions about preparing for the IEP meeting, communicating with your school district through letter writing, and more. The guide on developing your child's IEP contains a very helpful section on how you, if you are a parent, can most effectively participate in the IEP meeting (suggestions for how your child can particpate, too, are included). The guide suggests what you can do before and during the meeting, what to do if you do not agree, and what to do after the IEP is finally developed.

The guide suggests that you prepare a Positive Student Profile by preparing answers to these questions; you do not have to mention them specifically during the meeting, but the questions can help to focus your thoughts.

Doing a Positive Student Profile

Answer the following questions about your child as a way to prepare for the IEP meeting.

1. Who is ____________? (Describe your child, including such information as place in the family, personality, likes and dislikes.)

2. What are __________’s strengths? (Highlight all areas where your child does well, including school, home, community, and social settings.)

3. What are ________’s successes? (List all successes, no matter how small.)

4. What are ________’s greatest challenges? (List the areas where your child has the greatest difficulties.)

5. What are _________’s needs? (List the skills your child needs to work on and the supports he or she needs.)

6. What are our dreams for ____________? (Describe your vision for your child’s future, including short-term and long-term goals.)

7. Other helpful information. (List all relevant information, including health care needs, that has not already been described above.)

I find this list helpful because of its emphasis on the positive while also keeping in mind areas where a child struggles. Instead of emphasizing what a child can't do, questions (2) and (3) encourage you to specify what he can do and consider how do use those strengths to help him in areas where he has challenges (4) and where he has needs (5). I think inclusion of the word “dreams” is important: Too often one hears a parent of a just-diagnosed child talk about how “all their dreams” for their child have been quashed after hearing “your child has autism.” I have as many dreams as I ever did for Charlie but these dreams are not based on what I want him to be, but on who he shows himself to be and on where he shows us his own strengths.

Charlie and I are going into New York City to meet Jim for a walk and dinner later today, and I think I will be thinking about the Positive Student Profile questions as we ride the train—-and seeing what more Charlie has to tell me about himself.

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