With all the hoopla surrounding Cooper's entry into kindergarten and the implementation of his Individualized Education Plan(IEP), I've realized how important it is for parents to understand and be fully informed of the options available for their child at school.

Developing and implementing a successful IEP for your child requires more than attending the IEP meeting and signing a few papers that approve your child's entry into the school's special education program. Here's a few tips I've picked up in my own process of developing an IEP for my son.

1.       You Don't Have to Sign Anything You're Not Sure About

Once you start the process with your child's school to develop an IEP, you'll basically sit back and wait for the special education department and the school to perform testing on your child and come up with their own plan based on their observations. Then, you'll be asked to attend a meeting with those involved in the development of your child's IEP.

This meeting is super-important, because this is your chance to ask questions and review your child's IEP in the presence of the ones who developed it. This is your chance to make sure you understand their determination and how they reached it. If you have any concerns or disagreement with a part of your child's evaluation, it's better to address them now at this meeting.

If you are just simply unsure of what you are reading and want more time to go over it, that is your right. You don't have to sign anything you're unsure of. I encourage you to take the evaluation home, review it with your spouse, and write down any questions you may have about it.

2.       Ask About All Therapies Available Through School

Speech impairment is a fairly common delay on otherwise “normal” children, so most parents are aware that speech therapy is available in school. But did you know that other therapies like behavioral and occupational therapy are available as well? All it takes is a prescription from a doctor to get your child enrolled in a therapy program through the school.

My son, Cooper, has to participate in occupational therapy to address his fine motor skills delays. When he was first diagnosed with development delays, occupational therapy was recommended to us and we were referred to a clinic near our home. However, with the school's program, we no longer have to pay out of pocket for Cooper's OT.

3.       Be Sure You Understand What Type of Scale Your Child's Grade Advancement Will Be Based Upon

In Cooper's case, he is capable of learning, just at a slower pace. Therefore, he still get graded on the same scale as other children in his grade.

However, children who have more severe mental handicaps are likely to be advanced to another grade level for social advancement, but will not actually graduate from high school. These children receive certificates of attendance and are often allowed to walk at graduation.

If your child is like mine, with delays but a sound mind, you'll want to be sure you understand how your child's grade placement will be based—if he or she is graded on general education scale, you'll have to work extra hard to help your child advance to the next level. You'll also want to make sure your child is receiving all the help available to him or her in school.

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