Programs are in place to prepare children with special needs for school and to receive the proper supports for learning. For children with Cerebral Palsy, early intervention plans begin soon after a child is diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, and sometimes before diagnosis when developmental delay is identified. Early intervention, early childhood programs and special education plans are the result of a collaboration between educators and parents to form a plan to optimize a child’s ability to learn.
Special education plans offer blue print for students with disabilities
The importance of a child’s experiences in their early formative years can greatly impact their future success in school and beyond. For children with special needs, this can be particularly true. Educators work with parents of children with special needs to ready a child for lifelong learning.
For children with Cerebral Palsy, this requires that educators work alongside parents to optimize a child’s ability to be mobile, to communicate, and to learn. The work begins within the home environment between the age of birth to 3 years with early intervention services, transitions through early childhood programs, and extends through secondary special education planning.
Educators evaluate a child’s abilities and detail goals and objectives in various plans to ready a child for lifelong learning. Acronyms for these plans are common – IFSP, IEP, IHP and ITP.
- Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP
- Independent Education Evaluation, or IEE
- Individualized Education Program, or IEP
- Individualized Health Plan, or IHP
- Individualized Transition Plan, or ITP
These plans are detailed below.
Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP
An Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP, is an early intervention program to help with the needs of families with children from birth to age 3 who have disabilities. The goal is to help prepare children to learn in school.
The state-mandated IFSP starts with the collection of information about the child’s living environment and how it affects his or her development.
Other information may include family dynamic, access to local parks for quality recreation time and resources available to aid them in maintaining a healthy environment.
A team of professionals that will conduct the tests and monitor progress may include a special education teacher, a district employee familiar with special needs assessments, a resource specialist, a physical therapist, a social worker, a psychologist, one or both parents, and a legal representative secured by the family. They will make determinations based on the child’s abilities in the following areas:
- Physical and developmental state
- Communication skills
- Home environment
- Ability to cope within the home environment
- Potential need for adaptive devices to improve physical function
- Potential need for communication devices
- Availability of local therapy and service programs
The final IFSP will include, in writing, a list of the services that will be provided such as physical therapy, behavioral counseling, recreation services, family counseling, referrals to social services for financial assistance. In addition, it will outline the following:
- A timeline for results
- Who will provide and pay for the services
- The number of sessions that a child will receive for specific services
- All desired and expected outcomes
The assessment will also determine the nature of a child’s development in the following areas:
- Physical/motor ability
- Sensory perception
- Communication skills
- Social development
- Psychological development
A multi-disciplinary team will address strengths and weaknesses of a family as they relate to a child’s development.They include:
- Level of development
- Medical condition
- A statement of goals
- An outline of support skills
- A timeline for services to come into place
The IFSP is revisited every six months, or sooner if additional reinforcements are needed. The IFSP also includes a transition step that should be implemented prior to a child’s third birthday. The goal is to help the child make a seamless conversion into a school environment.
Families who disagree with the determinations of their child’s IFSP can appeal.
Independent Education Evaluation, or IEE
Any school-aged child starting at age 3 who is suspected of having a learning challenge may get an Independent Education Evaluation, or IEE, as part of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. The purpose of an IEE is to identify potential learning barriers and determine what, if any, special education programming will remove those barriers.
Educators generally request the IEE evaluation; however, parents are encouraged to discuss education and developmental concerns with their child’s teachers.
IEE’s are typically funded by school districts and performed by district personnel or outside agencies with masters level expertise in child development, speech and language development, psychology, sociology, education and physical therapy. Some circumstances require parents to pay for the testing. For example, a child may not qualify under the IDEA.
An IEE evaluation includes a physical and written examination of the following skills:
- Intellectual aptitude
- Social capabilities
- Psychological/behavioral health
- Speech/language skills
- Physical abilities
- Occupational abilities
Some portions of the test require parent participation that includes their impressions of the child’s strengths and weaknesses in the learning environment and at home. They may also be asked to provide medical documents and school records.
Results of this comprehensive assessment will help educators and parents determine whether a conventional classroom, special education classroom, or combination of both, will be most beneficial for the child to maximize learning potential.
During the process, parents are afforded some broad rights that guarantee participation in the process. They include a full accounting if IDEA provisions, inspection of all school records, attendance at all related meetings, and the right to deny certain actions regarding their child’s education.
Parents who disagree with the overall assessment for any reason have the right to appeal. It may require a second independent evaluation by professionals approved by but not employed by the school district.
There are a few catches. Once a parent indicates that he or she disagrees with the evaluation’s findings, district officials will initiate a due process hearing during which a parent can air grievances about the results.
If officials agree with the parent, a second evaluation may be ordered at the district’s expense. On the other hand, if the initial finding stands, parents can initiate and pay for a second evaluation with the risk that the results may not change the original decision.
Individualized Education Program, or IEP
An Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is an important step in determining the best course to educate a child with learning challenges. It is a state-mandated program for all students who qualify for special education services.
It includes step-by-step guidelines that outline a child’s strengths and challenges versus what will be required to make sure that a child receives the Free and Appropriate Education required by law. The intention is to even the scales between what is taught to able-bodied students and their counterparts with special needs.
The mantra within the special education community is that services should only be applied when needed and required – it’s not preferable for a child to be in a dedicated special education setting 100 percent of time unless it is absolutely necessary.
Because IEP’s are assessed annually and revised every three years, changes can be implemented if some aspect does not yield the desired results.
A team of professionals along with the child’s parents will devise a blueprint that will direct how services will be utilized to benefit a child based on his or her needs.
They must address communication skills, physical and functional skills, social abilities, psychological health and developmental abilities.
The guidelines will hone in on the following:
- Physical and developmental challenges
- Present level of academic skills
- Methods to measure progress
- Type of classrooms – mainstream, self-contained, or a combination of both – most able to meet a child’s learning needs
- Frequency and duration of academic services, and related services
- Timeline for all educational goals
- Methods of instruction
- Assistance needed to maximize educational efforts
- Accommodations needed (preferential seating, modified assignments or revised work due dates)
- Technologies that can help
- Available transportation services
- Steps to ensure a child’s education is meaningful and appropriate
- How state-required assessments will be administered
- Transitional measures necessary after a student completes high school
Service that are not associated with a child’s education, but are directly linked to his or her ability to be successful in school may also be provided. They include:
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech and language pathology
- Limited medical services and support
- Psychological counseling
- Recreation services
- Mobility services
The IEP offers many benefits to children with learning challenges. Among them is that they receive a tailored plan that addresses individual needs, provides goals and objectives, creates a supportive learning environment and gives parents a voice in the process. As a child progresses, the IEP can be revised.
The IEP team that will follow the child’s progress may include a special education teacher, a special needs resources specialist, an instructional specialist, a social worker, a parent and a student, if he or she is at least 14 years of age. Therapists, tutors and paraprofessionals may also be asked to participate.
Parents are also given the opportunity to involve others who can shed light on a child’s abilities. This might include independent therapists or physicians, child advocates, and attorneys.
Provisions of the IEP
In a perfect case scenario, and IEP should consider the general education curriculum that all students are learning in order to find ways to teach the same material to children with learning disabilities.
For example, if a child has developmental delays but has demonstrated that he or she can draw or paint, the student should be allowed to take art or other related classes with the general student population.
Each scenario is unique – there’s not one solution that works for every student.
Individualized Health Plan, or IHP
Every student with a health or physical impairment should have an Individual Health Plan – documents that detail their needs and the services to be provided by educators and other service officials.
The first step is to talk with school officials about the child’s special circumstances, ideally two to three months prior to the start of kindergarten. The written plan should be a collaboration of parents, educators and the child’s health care provider.
It should address the following issues in relationship to the child’s needs:
- Academic and social community
- Environmental controls (air quality, elimination of irritants, allergen and toxins)
- Establishment of a plan for ongoing teamwork, communication and evaluation
- Family and school concerns
- Guidelines that promote a student’s health and educational goals
- Individualized crisis and emergency management
- Personal fitness goals (safe participation in physical education, sports, field trips and other special events
- Physical, social, emotional and academic goals
- Roles and responsibilities of all parties involved
- Staff training
- Timely distribution of medications
Parents and educators agree that an IHP is essential to achieving educational equality for all students with health management needs, whether or not the student is eligible for special education.
Individualized Transition Plan, or ITP
An Individualized Transition Plan, or ITP, is a comprehensive plan designed to help children with disabilities make a smooth conversion from childhood to adulthood.
ITPs are helpful in determining what supports and activities a child will need to be able to live as independently as possible. It allows students to set goals for their futures that could include college, vocational training, working, or finding assisted living environments.
The ITP is developed by the student’s IEP team when he or she is 14 to 16 years of age and can follow that student until he or she reaches 22 to 26 years of age, depending on state’s age requirements for school-based services.
Like other school programs, ITP focus on a person’s strengths and weakness, and decide how the education system can help fill any gaps. It identifies the types of support that person will need to attain at least some independence. Students participate in the process by sharing their dreams and goals for the future.
The ITP also considers a student’s medical needs and aptitude for continued education and/or employment. It identifies supports that will be in place when that student reaches adulthood.
Factors that go into determining how to best achieve realistic goals are challenges at school and home, related services that will be required during adulthood, available services that are presently made available by family, specific goals and interests, ability to advocate on their own behalf and social skills.
The plan outlines the student’s goals and a path to reach them, potential community support services, income or access to income, planned living arrangements, available community activities, and availability of transportation.
Assistance to achieve their goal will include vocational training, independent employment assistance, supported employment, adult education training, adult supportive services, post-secondary education and college prep planning.
To learn more about a young person’s skill levels, a comprehensive assessment will measure the following factors:
- Ability to carry out daily tasks
- Ability to solve problems
- The student’s social acumen
- Physical and developmental functioning as it applies to school or work
- Vocational factors (supported employment versus conventional employment)
- The need for support (PCAs or assistants)
- Ability to communicate by speaking, signing, using devices, email or instant messaging
- Ability to drive or use mass transit
All of these issues will help the ITP team chart a path to help a child reach his or her individual goals, whether it is attending trade school, going to college, or pursuing employment.
Additionally, an ITP will help identify solutions to obstacles that interfere with a child’s goals by continually assessing a child as he or she makes the many smaller transitions that produce well-rounded, healthy, independent adults.
Life skills – or the ability to manage one’s life by handling tasks such as self-care, cooking, managing a household, getting to and from work or school, and paying bills – are also addressed to help ensure a young adult can function after high school. The life lessons may be taught through government supported programs, community organizations, hospitals and medical centers, or nonprofit agencies.
If a parent disagrees with the provisions put into place by an IEP, he or she has the right to dispute the district’s decisions. The first step a parent should take is to try to reach an agreement with the district about changes he or she believes would benefit a student. If an agreement cannot be reached, it is advisable to then ask for mediation. If that doesn’t work, a parent can ask for a due process hearing.
Every child is entitled to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Some children require aids and supports. Parents are urged to research and meet with educators in the public and private sectors to decide the appropriate education path to meet their child’s needs.
About Special Education
- The Value of Education
- Special Education Legislation
- Special Education Options
- Eligibility for Special Education
- Special Education Assessments
- Special Education Planning Team
- Special Education Services
- Types of Special Education Plans
- School Transitions
- Dispute Resolution
- School Nutrition Programs
- Adaptive Sports in the Public School System