In the U.S., every child is entitled to a free and appropriate education (FAPE). This is an easy thing to say, but what does it mean? Every state has it’s own interpretation and every child has his/her individual needs. But when you get down to it, what is going to happen is that every parent of a child with a disability meets with school officials at which time an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) will be drafted and signed by all the parties.
The IEP serves as the basis for determining what goals you expect your child to achieve during the year. It is the basis from which everyone determines whether the education your child receives is an appropriate one. Remember that. When you sign the IEP, you are agreeing that it states the goals that you expect your child to achieve during the school year.
A school must be able to implement the IEP in order for there to be an “appropriate education” for the child.
This is now where I am. I am involved in meetings to determine the language of my son’s IEP. Friday afternoon, there was an IEP meeting between me, the school’s special education director/psychologist, the school’s teachers, the school’s speech therapist, the school’s occupational therapist, the behavioral therapists, our state’s disability funding agency and the school district’s “facilitator”. Full house.
This was an adversarial meeting. Their goal is to cut funding. My goal is to spend it to the full extent of getting my child every last drop of “appropriate” education to which he is entitled. It will always be adversarial because we are always on opposite sides. No matter what they say about it being about my son – it’s about their funding – they are going to have a slant that it can be done on the cheap, and a bias that they can do it just as good if not better than anyone else. That is not appropriate nor adequate in most cases.
What I see coming is that my school district does not want to pay for ABA one-on-one tutors that currently attend kindergarten, full time, with my son, in my son’s class. They want us to give up my ABA one-on-one aide and use one of their non-ABA teacher’s aides. This is not “appropriate”.
What I saw the school administrator doing, with the facilitator’s aid, last Friday, is to try and isolate out a traditional “school’s role” and portion it off from the other assistance my son receives in ABA. The school is asserting it is only interested in providing assistance for an “education.” Their way would lead to them not being responsible for funding the ABA programs and, instead, using their own non-ABA aides to “babysit” my kid at school. Cheap and untrained, this would not be “appropriate education” but it would be “free”.
The problem is: what is part of his “education” that makes ABA “appropriate” for it?
Here is where it is tricky.
I’m a lawyer but I’m not a lawyer that specializes or has any experience in litigating the area of education law. I don’t do education law. I’m starting to do education law by default for my son. But I have no expertise in this area. I’m learning – just like all you parents out there are learning – by doing. My advantage is that I know that simple words have complex legal interpretations. I can read and interpret cases and statutes, and I intend to try and “rubberize” those meanings to cover my son’s needs.
So, what I share with you in this post is me as a mom. Not me, as a lawyer. I’m sharing what I know from watching my son in ABA and in watching ABA one-on-one school tutors facilitating my son’s education.
During the meeting, ABA representatives presented their goals. Some of those goals include things like introducing new foods. The “facilitator”, whose role is suspiciously like an advocate for the school district (although they tell me he is supposed to ‘bridge’ the school with the parent), tried to say the ABA goals don’t need to be included on the IEP. At first, I thought – well, yes, they don’t have to do with his “education.”
But, on further reflection – they actually do.
In fact, everything ABA does with my child is part of his “education” in reality.
My child requires “special” education because he doesn’t learn the same way the neurotypical children do. For example, most of us with ASD kids, have kids with food peculiarities. This seems to have nothing to do with “education” at first glance. It actually does.
At school, at least in kindergarten, children have snack time. During snack time, they play, talk, and they eat. My son usually does not eat. He certainly doesn’t talk or play in the traditional sense. To learn to eat a new food (and for him this would be as simple as cheese and crackers) enables him to bridge one of the many isolating features blocking socialization with his peers. He may not express that he knows he is different in this way but he knows. He tells me. Maybe three weeks, or a month, or six months later, but he tells me, and then I realize he knew all along.
That isolation, as it is lessened by ABA programs, will translate into classroom participation, self-confidence, and ultimately in furthering his overall education. Each tiny step which, by itself, can appear, unrelated to education, is, in fact, related to education. So, I want these goals on his IEP.
If school personnel cannot or are not trained to accomplish those goals, guess what? They have to use public funds to pay for them. And thus, ABA is funded.
That’s just my mommy opinion, of course. I’m no expert, I’m just a mommy. One that happens to carry a bar card and legal research in her back pocket. And a mommy who doesn’t have to pay for a lawyer. She is one. As a mommy, I’ll let you know how it goes.
Moral of the story: Don’t forget to put these things in your IEP. You can’t get what you don’t ask for.