We receive a lot of questions from parents about IEP plans. The whole process can be complicated and overwhelming, and it’s challenging to know if your child is receiving all the options they are entitled to. Furthermore, it’s sometimes difficult for parents to understand how they can create consistency for their child as they transition between the school and home environments.
To help answer these questions, we sat down with Karyn Olzak, who is one of our amazing clinicians here at The Autism Therapy Group. We asked Karyn how and why parents should get their ABA team involved in the IEP process and what parents need to know about advocating for quality, consistent care, and education.
Q: What is an IEP and what is involved in creating an IEP for a child?
Karyn: IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan and it’s a requirement that must be fulfilled before a child is eligible to receive special education services. The first step is for the child to be evaluated by the school’s special education team who determine the child’s eligibility and then develop an IEP for the child.
The IEP can cover a lot of different aspects of the child’s education, but the overall goal is for all the pieces – from test results to special accommodations to progress markers – to come together and create the best possible education plan for the child. Most special education teams rely heavily on the parents’ input during this process and will set up a meeting with the parents to develop an individualized education plan with their input. Once a year, parents will attend the annual IEP meeting to review the child’s progress and develop new goals.
For many parents, these meetings can feel stressful or overwhelming. It’s not only important for the parents to know what to expect from the IEP process but to also have an idea about their rights and expectations. For parents who are already working with a BCBA, it’s very important to get them involved right away.
Q: Why is it important for the parents to get their child’s BCBA involved in the IEP process?
Karyn: The parents are the key players on the IEP team and the BCBA’s role throughout the process is to support them in advocating for their child and ensuring that the child receives the highest quality care. These meetings can feel intimidating to parents because they often involve a lot of different people. Sometimes parents don’t know the things they can and can’t ask for or what their rights are. This is especially true if they are new to special education.
The BCBA has likely been through this process many times and can really help to advise the parents about what they can and should expect, and encourage them to voice their goals and dreams for their child. The IEP process is complicated and the BCBA can be a tremendous support for both the parents and the child. Most parents appreciate having someone else there who knows their child and is able to express the challenges and progress of the child inside the home and what they expect to see for the child in the future.
It’s also important for the BCBA to be involved to ensure clarity and consistency. In most cases, consistency is one of the most important aspects of a child’s progress. It’s in the child’s best interest for everyone involved in their life to be on the same page, focused on similar goals, and working on the same behavior plan.
As progress is being examined throughout the year, the BCBA can offer insights into what they are working on at home, how the child has progressed outside of school hours, and how behavior modifications are evolving. All of these things contribute to new goals so that the IEP is not only consistent across all aspects of the child’s life, but a fluid process that is able to adjust to the changing needs of the child.
Q: How does being involved in the IEP process affect the work that the BCBA does with the child outside of school hours?
Karyn: Many of the kids we work with have a difficult time transferring skills from one setting to another without specific training. If the BCBA knows that the special education staff is working on specific skills during the school day, they can work with the child to see how those skills transfer into the home and even the community.
Teaching kids how to demonstrate the same skills in a variety of settings is not only important for creating consistency, it also allows the BCBA to support the work of the special education staff.
Q: How does being involved in the IEP process affect the goals and outcomes of the IEP?
Karyn: In most situations, BCBA’s are working very closely with parents. As a result, when BCBA’s are included in IEP meetings, they can provide support in making sure that the plan’s goals are aligned with what the parents want to see. They can also advocate for accommodations that might benefit their child by encouraging the parents to ask for what they think their child needs.
In many cases, the BCBA is there during IEP meetings to really listen, make sure that they are getting important school information, and have a clear understanding of how the special education staff is working with the child.
Q: A common theme I’m hearing throughout this conversation is the importance of consistency.
Karyn: Yes! It’s so important for children with autism to receive consistency of care. If everyone involved in educating and supporting the child’s growth has similar goals, the child will progress faster. That’s the simple truth.
The special education staff, BCBA, parents, and any other caretakers need to know that they aren’t overwhelming and confusing the child by having different goals and expectations in different situations. There must be a focus on skills being transferred and generalized from one setting to another. That’s really is key. The ideal situation is for everyone in the child’s life to be on the same page, teaching the same replacement behaviors and following a similar reactive plan.
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