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Oh, where to begin? Here is help to navigate school 504 plans and IEPs

May 3rd, 2013 12:00 am by Kris Hey-Orlando Sentinel

Oh, where to begin? Here is help to navigate school 504 plans and IEPs

We recently had state testing week, and my son is in third grade. ?This means it was his first major standardized test, but he was calm and?prepared each morning. He was even getting up early and getting ready ?without any prodding from me.

He’s growing up. It amazes me because just a few months ago he needed that prodding daily.

My advice to him about the tests was to try his best to focus, read ?all the answers before choosing one, try to relax and just try to do his?best.

Our son is on an individualized education plan (IEP) at school, so ?the standardized test is more challenging for him than students not on a?plan. An IEP is a written plan for the special education of a child ?with a disability, according to the Florida Department of Education.

My hope is I can help some of you just beginning or going through the 504 or IEP process for your child.

There are steps that happen before a child is eligible for an IEP ?(and, believe me, it is not always easy. It took years in our case). ?Other measures to help your child, such as a Section 504 plan must be ?taken first. In a Section 504, according to the DOE, the plan describes ?the accommodations that the school will provide to support the student’s?education.

Some of the benefits 504s and IEPs provide can include everything ?from special classroom seating (which can help with vision and hearing ?issues), extra time and help from teachers on tests, including the FCAT,?having math word problems and other classwork read to the child if he ?or she is unable to read on grade level, among other things.

I won’t get into the specific details of my son’s IEP, out of respect?for him and the teenager he will become — you know, one who might be ?mortified knowing his school life is available on the Internet. That ?said, I have already let you know he has learning disabilities and ADHD,?and we are not ashamed or secretive about it. He knows we love him just?as he is and constantly reinforce with him that many children learn ?differently. His way of learning is his own special way, and it’s ?nothing to be embarrassed about or to hide from others.

Here are a few points of advice, based on my five years of dealing ?with 504s and an IEP, and after many, many talks with teacher friends, ?local child advocates and other experts on learning disabilities and ?special education.

1. FOLLOW YOUR INTUITION. You might be a parent ?suspecting something is not quite right with your child’s school ?performance or behavior. You might have a gut feeling; if you do, listen?to it. Maybe your son or daughter is mixing up letters or numbers, ?having trouble focusing, having trouble reading, pronouncing simple ?words incorrectly, writing illegibly, spacing written words oddly or is ?hyperactive. It does not matter what grade your child is in at the time.?We first noticed a problem in kindergarten. Keep an eye on your ?observations, inform your child’s teacher of your concern(s) immediately?and keep following up. Don’t ever feel like you are overreacting; you ?know your child better than anyone else.

2. GET YOUR CHILD TESTED BY AN INDEPENDENT PSYCHOLOGIST.?If you feel it’s time to get your child evaluated or your school ?advises this might be a good idea, as it was in our case, take him or ?her for a neuropsychological evaluation. This report is done outside of ?the school, takes several hours for the child to complete over a few ?sessions, but it can show ADHD, sensory processing disorders, learning ?disabilities and so much more. You can find psychologists in your area ?and many pediatricians can help you decide on the right person. Make ?copies of your final report, bring that report with you to future ?meetings with school officials. For me, that report was ammunition I had?to keep referring to over and over when school officials did not “see” ?in my son what was said in the report. He started with a 504 for a few ?years, and then his second-grade teacher eventually saw and believed all?the findings of our report. I will always be indebted to her and glad I?never gave up. She and other caring and observant teachers helped write?and convince the school he needed an IEP.

3. GET CONNECTED. Find people who can help you ?figure out what to do and where to get help. There are Facebook groups, ?teachers, special education and IEP advocates who all can help. Much of ?the help is free, but some advocates do charge and will attend meetings ?with you to help your child. Most parents have no idea where to begin to?get the special teaching their child needs and they simply just set up a?school meeting where all kinds of terms are used like “tiers” and ?“interventions” that might fly right over your head. My best resource is?a friend, Lyman L. Dukes III, Ph.D., who is an associate dean with ?University of South Florida’s College of Education and an Associate ?Professor, Special Education, at USF in St. Petersburg, Fla. He also ?authored “Preparing Students with Disabilities for College Success: A ?Practical Guide for Transition” (Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company, ?$37.95). He has helped me cope with my fear, realize this process is not?a death sentence for my son to attend college and strongly encouraged ?me to always advocate for my son. He always answers my sometimes-frantic?questions, and I am thankful to have an expert as a friend.

4. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. I suggest learning all you can ?about interventions, 504s and IEPs before you set up your first school ?meeting. Read the links below. Write down your questions and take notes.?It really helps to be prepared because once that ball gets rolling you ?are going to have a few meetings a year with at least four or five ?school officials in the room. It can be intimidating, especially when ?you don’t agree with what they might be saying. (No, your child does not?attend).

5. ADVOCATE. This is your child. There is no one ?more important. You might need to get a little snippy at times with ?school administration or teachers, but you are your child’s biggest ?helper. These days I call it advocating, but there were days it really ?felt like a battle to get the school system to hear me. I know my child.?I knew he needed more help than he was getting and he needed it from ?teachers trained in teaching learning disabled children.

Now, more than three-quarters of the way into his first year on an ?IEP, I can honestly say my son has made remarkable progress. Watching ?him read and seeing great improvement overall brings tears to my eyes.

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RESOURCES

National Research Center on Learning Disabilities http://www.nrcld.org/

Learning Disabilities http://www.ldonline.org/

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