Monday, July 7, 2008

Setting up the IEP to Draw on Your Child's Strengths to Assist his Weaknesses

This is the third post in my series on the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and if you've been following, we now have a list of strengths and weaknesses for our child.

The list of strengths may fall into broad categories such as;
  • favourite/best subjects
  • specific special abilities
  • aspergers abilities
  • working learning patterns
  • specific interests

While the weaknesses will probably fall into the following categories;
  • subject areas
  • social skills
  • issues with children taking things literally
  • emotive concerns
  • muscular issues
  • memory and concentration issues
  • comorbid conditions
  • medication
  • routine fixations
  • meltdowns
The next task is to walk through the list of weaknesses and allocate each one;
  • a specific (and achievable goal
  • a strategy to attain that goal
  • one or more owners
  • an evaluation or monitoring strategy to ascertain progress

The Goal
The fact that the goal needs to be achievable can't be stressed enough. More is accomplished in little steps which succeed than giant strides which fail. If your child is having difficulty getting friends at school, you may want him to have a circle of friends but realistically, it is better to aim for a goal of "my son is playing with another child at lunchtime".

The Strategy
The strategy should be a means of achieving the stated goal. It will tie in closely with the owner and with the measurement. When drawing up strategy, you need to keep the limitations of teaching staff in mind. In particular, remember that teachers still have a class to teach and that their class may contain other children with special needs and their own IEP. As much as possible, the strategy needs to be simple to implement, follow existing school guidelines and not interfere with the teacher's job - teaching the class.

From the child's point of view, an overly directed or complicated strategy could place too much of a burden on them. Whenever possible, strategy should be invisible to the student. It should be their world that seems to support them, rather than them being given a list of rules to follow in order to fit in.

In our stated example of encouraging friendships, a good strategy would be for the teacher to keep a couple of suitable children (similar interests or backgrounds) in mind whenever;

  1. Whenever there are small group activities, try to pair the aspie child with the same group of "friends".

  2. Try to encourage friendship by sending the aspie child with a "friend" for various class duties - eg: collecting lunch orders or taking something to the school office.
This strategy is "friendship by association" and takes into account the fact that the aspie child will often be unable to distinguish genuine friendship from friendly acts. It means that the aspie child will treat the other children as if they were friends. Hopefully this will lead to associations in the playground.

The Owners
The process owners are responsible for implementing strategy and also monitoring the results. Process owners need to keep a close eye on results as sometimes, particularly during social modifications, unexpected conditions occur. In most cases, the process owners will be teachers, but often parents and special education teachers also need to become involved.

In our example of improving socialisation; the teacher is the process owner for all group activities and the parents may also take a role by simply talking to their child about their play activities and friends.

Evaluation simply refers to the determination, by the process owners, of whether or not the strategy is leading towards the goal. It is generally not enough to do a single evaluation at the end of the year. The situation, particularly when social and behavioural modification is being attempted, needs to be monitored regularly.

In our example; the aspie might approach a "friend" in the playground and be rejected. Such a rejection could put the goal in jeopardy. The process owner needs to act immediately on this sort of problem.

On the other hand, if the goal is being achieved, then the process owner should note this, so that the parents and school receive positive feedback (always nice to have), the process can be reinforced and, at the next IEP meeting, new goals can be set.


paulhome said...

Hi Gavin:

I wanted to thank you for this website. On more than one occassion it has helped me to relate to my 17 year old son who has Aspergers. The topics are relevant and infomative and I appreciate that you care enough to help others with this information.


Erin said...

Good suggestions. I've seen too many IEPs be so focused on the weaknesses. Drawing on the strengths is the way to go.