Neglect of educational potential, of those with disabilities, will come back to bite us!
We are writing off half a million children, who have the potential to learn and access many forms of post-secondary education, in the next 2 years.
We have little time and have drawn an arbitrary line in the sand declaring that those with disabilities do not have any more potential to learn.
NBC Dateline’s “On The Brink”, noted that within the next two years approximately 500,000 teenagers with autism and significant functional limitations will turn 21 and age-out of access to a free appropriate public education. This will result in the influx of hundreds of thousands of non-functional and non-independent adults, unable to live without some sort of support, entering overwhelmed and underfunded state, federal, and social programs. These adults will have limited access to educational, vocational and social resources. The emotional stress and financial costs associated with supporting these children and adults continues to overwhelm families.
Those with developmental disabilities should have Transition IEPs (TIEP) in place by age 16. What many education advocates don’t understand is that we can start earlier. Many of the IEPs I consult on start transitional goals as early as 10 years old. We develop a plan, AFTER identifying needed skills and strengths that need to be developed, so the student will be able to be independent in the home, work, community and access post secondary education. If it is going to take10 years to teach a skill then we start before age 16. Many of the current evaluation tools available to identify these needs are deplorable and not research based. In the behavioral community we are thankful for the AFLS and progress monitoring of generalization across natural environments with fluency data to determine levels of independence.
The transition plan is not just educating a student on just soft transferable job skills, for predetermined minimum wage jobs in the market. The transition IEP does not just stop academic goals and move on to vocational goals. Academic goals and skills are essential for independence and competitiveness in the job market. The transition IEP is also not an IEP that ONLY considers the 4F jobs (food, flowers, filing filth) which are relegated to those with disabilities, due to discrimination and a lack of high expectations of success in other fields. Self-determination needs to be facilitated, individualized and honored.
There needs to be comprehensive academic, social, communication, vocational, behavioral and community access goals that are measurable, with clear time frames to achieve these goals, and documented independence from prompting, fluency and automaticity needs to be achieved, and the ability to generalize these skills across natural environments, outside of school. This is not measured by an academic checklist or test, rather these are independent FUNCTIONAL GOALS. These goals are not generic from a book. They must include facilitated person center planning, self-determination, self-advocacy, social cognition and social competency skills (not just social skills) training and high levels of individualization for these IEPs to be successful. Parents are a child’s BEST advocate, yet they are met with resistance, as they advocate for their children. They only ask for documentation of demonstrated independent functional capacity in their children so that they will be safe, happy, contributing members of society.
A TIEP, at a parent’s request, took the following approach:
This set the stage for goal development, intensity of service requirements, location of services as well as the progress monitoring tools to use. It was brilliant! The team of clinical and educational experts – OT, PT, S/L, school psychologist, teacher for the blind and neuro psychologist … looked at developmental models, prerequisite skills and realistic levels of progress that could be made. Comprehensive functional, behavioral, as well as academic evaluations were performed, to determine baselines. It addressed needs across multiple settings: academic in classroom versus the option of academic push-in to the vocational or community settings. Social, communication, behavioral, prompt dependence, and fluency needs were determined as well as related service goals and vocational skills. This was addressed looking at a variety of appropriate settings, which would allow for generalization, motivation and automaticity of skills. Research based programming and integrated interventions across settings where looked at and discussed so that an eclectic approach would not occur again. Weekly cross communication between all those in contact with the student was clearly outlined in the TIEP so that coordinated reinforcement of skills would occur throughout the day and not in isolation.
Meetings with this student and the BCBA, S/L Therapist and others were done to assist in self-determination, pragmatic language, and the self-advocacy piece. Assistive communication supports were used and material was not rushed. The student needed to understand EVERYTHING that was going on! (Yes, they were long meetings.) This team was committed to the student’s process and enthusiastically attacked a problem that had no models for them to follow. This complex process took 5 weeks of emails, sharing and discussion of high versus low expectations. It was amazing to watch the professional collaboration at work. Team members were honest as to what they knew how to do and what they would have to learn to do. An open discussion of pitfalls in each program and goal development were discussed and accommodated for based on individualized needs and baselines.
I have advocated in over 20 states and have been to over a hundred TIEP meetings. I have attended presentations and trainings from the US Department of Education and multiple States’ Department of Education on TIEPs. This was just breath taking to watch the respect and dignity that was maintained for all members of the team (including the student and parents) as everyone problem solved and developed a truly individualized plan for this student. It was all based on highly analyzed data, not false assumptions or prejudices. It should be noted that this process only began because the “vocational specialist” on the team had low expectations for this child who has an intellectual disability. She had never read the student’s baselines and came into the IEP with a predetermined checklist for profoundly intellectually disabled students on basic vocational skills – most of which he has achieved years before. The parents and many of the team members, including the LEA, were very upset and took matters into their own hands. Everyone calmed down after the “vocational specialist” left. Lots of deep breaths were taken and then the team came back together and got to work!
Copyright 2015 Marie Lewis