As students, parents, educators, and others gear up for the new school year, this can be an opportune time to review general information and pointers regarding the development and/or continued implementation of the Individualized Education Program (IEP). For a student with an existing IEP, “it can be challenging to transition (the) child’s IEP services from year to year—and especially from school to school,” due to issues like turnover in faculty and staff, schedule changes, and shifts in procedures, to name a few. Following is some background information, along with input from educators, parents, and government sources, that could be helpful as a refresher or in planning for the academic year:
Children with disabilities and their families are eligible for special services in public schools free of charge, as outlined in their IEPs. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) includes parents of children of disabilities as members of the child’s educational team. The development of the IEP involves meetings where the parent, the child (at times), and school staff members work together to determine an educational program for the student and the subsequent IEP document that puts the results of that meeting in writing. Schools are required to hold an IEP meeting once a year. However, parents can request a meeting at any time to discuss issues of concern.
For the child who is blind or visually impaired, the school district must incorporate the following elements in the IEP, as explained by WonderBaby.org:
Compensatory or Functional Skills: These are required to access the curriculum and can include learning spatial awareness, Braille or large print, tactile symbols, and other proficiencies.
Orientation and Mobility Skills: Students need to learn from a certified O&M (Orientation and Mobility) instructor how to get around in their environment safely.
Social skills: Children most often learn about social interactions by watching others. Blind children “may not learn social behavior without direct instruction.”
Independent Living Skills: These are the skills needed for everyday activities like dressing, managing money, and other aptitudes that foster independence.
Recreation and Leisure Skills: Many games and sports played in physical education classes can be readily adapted for children with vision loss, through some may need extra time or alternative activities.
Career Education: This refers to teaching about what work is, expected behavior, and vocational training.
Use of Assistive Technology: Instruction in the expanding world of technology and what is available to blind students is very important.
Sensory Efficiency Skills: This involves children learning how to use the vision they have or learning how best to use other senses, like hearing or smell.
Self-Determination: It is important to teach children from an early age about taking care of themselves, including learning when to ask for help and how to set long-term goals.
Accommodations, such as paraprofessionals, extra time, seating, and other modifications, are part of the IEP for students with vision impairment.
A great deal of information is available about the IEP, what it entails, how to prepare for and participate in meetings, and other suggestions. The U.S. Department of Education website’s IDEA section guidance for IEPs in light of the challenges of COVID provides extensive background regarding the Return to School Roadmap: Development and Implementation of Individualized Education Programs. Parents may want to check out an article from Understood.org addressing How Do I Get My Child’s IEP Going at the Beginning of the School Year? The Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) offers guidance on Developing Your Child’s IEP, while Friendship Circle’s Special Needs Blog offers 9 steps to write an effective IEP for your child. For more information specific to the needs of students with vision loss, read the post from WonderBaby.org on IEP’s for Parents of Blind or Visually Impaired Children.