Top 3 IEP Questions, Answered!

By: Tina Qvarnstrom, Education Advocate, Cape Cod Advocate

What is the number one subject parents ask us about? They want to know more about  Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and how schools administer them. Below are three common questions, and our answers. 

1. How can I ensure the IEP is being carried out, as agreed upon at the IEP meeting?

Once an IEP is signed, it becomes legally biding. The agreed upon services and accommodations must be provided by the school and begin immediately. The type, length and frequency of services are outlined in the service delivery grid of the document.  

Every time a report card is issued, the professionals providing services to the child are required to complete progress reports. The reports should reflect the child’s progress toward achieving the goal by the annual review date.  Often, goals are adjusted based on the child’s progress.  

Another method to determine whether services are being provided is to ask to see a copy of the service delivery log that teachers and specialists who work with your child one-on-one or in small groups are required to maintain. The school must  provide the log to you upon request. Finally, ask to obtain copies of the IEP meeting notes and minutes immediately after meetings and refer back to them if you become concerned about your child’s progress. 

2.  Do the administrative representatives at the IEP meeting have the authority to make binding decisions?

All IEP meetings should include parents, a general education classroom teacher, a special education teacher, a representative from the school district who is knowledgeable about resources and can commit funds, and an individual who interprets evaluation results. When appropriate, the child with the disability can also attend. Parents should ask at the start of each meeting about the roles of attendees and clarify that at least one participant has the authority to commit resources and funds on behalf of the district.

3.  What if my child is making inadequate progress, but it's not time for the annual IEP meeting?

Parents can request an IEP meeting at anytime. It is best to make the request in writing, briefly outlining your concerns. The letter should be addressed to the IEP Team Chairperson, with a copy to the special education department and the teacher. Once the letter is received, a meeting must be scheduled within 10 days.

If you feel you are not getting the desired response from your child’s school, consider contacting Cape Cod Advocate. With 20+ years experience, we can ensure your child’s education is given the attention it deserves. Give us a call, or email us.  We’re here to help you and your child.

This blog is not intended as legal advice nor to take the place of professional consultation. Each child and situation is different. Call or email Cape Cod Advocate for more information.

Let's tie those shoes!

By: Christine M. Riley, Education Advocate

It may not seem like the biggest parenting challenge, until it is!

One of the most common concerns parents ask about us about is how to help their children learn to tie shoes so they can get out of Velcro. If you and your child are struggling with this issue, you are not alone!

Wearing Velcro shoes well into elementary school years could give rise to teasing and bullying of your child. In addition, learning the skill provides a boost in self-confidence and opens possibilities to a wider variety of footwear. Many sports involve shoes that often must be tied, such as soccer cleats. Help your child help himself by initiating shoe-tying skills as soon as reasonable.

I discovered these shoe-tying videos several years ago and frequently recommend them to clients.

One of the newest methods I've seen is this one from a Mom of a child with autism:

This video shows the “Ian Knot,” which is an easy and fast method for tying shoes.
The next video provides the “Magic Fingers” method, which is a bit more complicated, but may be easier for some children.

If you have a method that has worked well for your child, please leave a comment below and share with all of us!

Christine M. Riley established Cape Cod Advocate 11 years ago to provide educational consultation and advocacy for children of all ages and disabilities. A certified mediator, she is trained through Wrightslaw and the Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN). Christine is a member of  National Council of Parents, Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) and Special Needs Advisory Network-Massachusetts (SpaN) and is a former board member of SPaN, FCSN, ISEA and SEAT. 

This blog is not intended as legal advice nor to take the place of professional consultation. Each child and situation is different. Call or email Cape Cod Advocate for more information.

Yes, you should attend back-to-school night

By: Christine M. Riley, Education Advocate, Cape Cod Advocate

Back-to-school night is important, especially for parents of special needs students. Attendance, down nationally, is a unique opportunity to view the classrooms, daily schedules, and teachers through your child’s eyes as he embarks on the new school year. 

One night matters
Experts agree that one night can provide the background knowledge parents need to effectively handle or proactively avoid problems that may arise later on.

Relationship building with the teachers and staff begins on this night, and we all know that your investment and interest can encourage them to view your child and you through a more positive light. It’s an easy way to create a good first impression.

The view from his seat
Back to school night also gives insight into details that may become important through the course of the year: the view from his seat, how his classwork--often on display for back-to-school night--compares with typical peers, possible distractions out the window or door and the sense of place the rooms convey through the five senses. Remember to take a peek in the cafeteria, library, music room, gym and meet those specialists, even if you’ve been there in years past.

A word of warning: Don’t overstay your welcome or ask questions about your child’s IEP or related issues. While you may be excited and anxious to share all you can now about your child, recognize this is not the time or place for detailed conversations. Save that for parent-teacher conferences or request a separate meeting at another time.

Opportunities to tour the school and meet the staff without restriction or judgment are rare--so don’t let this one pass you by.

Additional back to school tips can be found here:

Christine M. Riley established Cape Cod Advocate 11 years ago to provide educational consultation and advocacy for children of all ages and disabilities. A certified mediator, she is trained through Wrightslaw and the Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN). Christine is a member of  National Council of Parents, Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) and Special Needs Advisory Network-Massachusetts (SpaN) and is a former board member of SPaN, FCSN, ISEA and SEAT. 

This blog is not intended as legal advice nor to take the place of professional consultation. Each child and situation is different. Call or email Cape Cod Advocate for more information.

This one tip eases the first day of school

By: Tina Qvarnstrom, Education Advocate, Cape Cod Advocate

Firsts are often hard for children who rely on routine and preparation.

First day of school and first impression may top that list.

We want to share with you a proven tip that works to ease the pressure for many of our clients: Pre-introduce your child to his new teacher with a brief passport letter to help clear the hurdle of those firsts creeping up in just a few weeks.

After all, when your child walks into a new classroom, the teacher knows only what others have said. Put your voice in the mix right from the start!

Compose a brief passport letter to introduce your child and email it to the teacher the week before school begins.

We’ve found this humanizing snapshot helps teachers see your child beyond the IEP, and sets up a friendly, caring start to the school year. Teachers tell us they appreciate the gesture, and the information—as long as it’s brief! Keep it to one page.

Beginning a letter like this can be the hardest part. Set it up with a warm cooperative tone from the start, like this: "My child John is very much looking forward to starting third grade with you this year. I'm writing to introduce John, describe techniques that work well for him, and ask for your help and sensitivity."

What specific information should your passport letter include?

-- Descriptive photo of your child enjoying a favorite activity (printed on the page, not attached)
    -- Specific names of your child’s disabilities and when diagnosed

    -- Positive attributes of your child – stick with three
      -- Symptoms to watch out for, and their triggers      

      -- Techniques to calm your child, including safe words/phrases
        -- Tips on what has worked in previous classrooms, and what has not
          -- Information about your child’s social interactions
            -- Your child’s favorites—subjects, items, foods—which can be motivators
              -- Your offer to help in the classroom, on field trips, with projects

              Close with your contact information and the best methods and times to reach you. By setting up the partnership for success from the beginning, your child’s passport into the next grade can be stamped with approval!

              Boosting adrenalin and attention at Cape Cod Schools

              By: Christine M. Riley, Education Advocate, Cape Cod Advocate

              “I’ve never had anything make such a difference in the lives of our kids,” one special education teacher said about it.

              A Harvard professor specializing in ADHD said it is “mental medicine, preparing kids to get ready for a day of learning.”

              You may think we are ready to introduce a new drug or behavioral therapy regimen.  

              Instead, we are raving about good, old-fashioned exercise! The difference is, it is delivered in a curriculum, offered before school, and led by volunteers trained in a Reebok-sponsored program.

              Ready to learn
              This, then, is BOKSBuild Our Kids' Success—a free, 45-minute before-school fitness program aimed at getting kids moving in the morning so their minds are ready for a day of learning.

              The mission of BOKS is to promote the benefits of physical activity for mind, body and community in elementary-age students. Eleven Cape Cod schools are in on the program, according to the BOKS website.

              Big impact on ADHD

              BOKS “is for kids in general, but it has a big effect for kids with ADHD,” says Dr. John Ratey, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of several ADHD books.

              Ratey’s research found that exercise for 15 to 20 minutes at 60 to 80 percent of the normal heart rate has the effects of a small dose of Ritalin or Prozac. By releasing natural drugs into the body through exercise, BOKS is like mental medicine, preparing kids for a day of learning.

              His findings are backed by a recent study showing that regular, half-hour aerobic sessions before school helped students with ADHD symptoms become more attentive.

              BOKS in Sandwich's Forestdale School

              Regardless of ability or disability, everyone is included. If a child needs adult support, it is provided,” said Diana Barbosa, Social Worker at the Forestdale School in Sandwich. BOKS had such a positive impact there in its inaugural year, the program quickly filled to capacity at 40 students, and a waiting list was initiated.

              Plans are to increase capacity to 80 students for the 2016-17 school year. “We’ve seen a great response through parent surveys and the kids themselves. BOKS not only increases physical activity, it helps to build social skills,” she said.

              The Forestdale School’s 45-minute program begins with free play, then moves into nutrition, the BOKS Rocks cheer, a locomotive activity, and a fun game highlighting social skills. It ends with the school cheer: “Hip hip hooray, have a great day!”

              Over 1,200 schools have implemented BOKS programs nationwide, as have community groups such as the Cape Cod Children’s Museum.

              Start BOKS in your school 

              What does it take? Volunteers--parents, teachers or community members-- who are willing to be trained in the curriculum, are the prime ingredients. If you are interested in initiating BOKS at your child’s school, clear instructions and sample curriculum and training programs are included on the BOKS website.

              Founder Kathleen Tullie and a small group of other Moms who believed in the mission launched BOKS in 2009. They were the first volunteers of what became a nationwide movement that ultimately teamed up with Massachusetts-based Reebok to bring the program to schools in 48 states and six countries.

              Christine M. Riley established Cape Cod Advocate 11 years ago to provide educational consultation and advocacy for children of all ages and disabilities. A certified mediator, she is trained through Wrightslaw and the Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN). Christine is a member of  National Council of Parents, Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) and Special Needs Advisory Network-Massachusetts (SpaN) and is a former board member of SPaN, FCSN, ISEA and SEAT. 

              Summer services for your child?

               By: Christine M. Riley

              Now is the time school districts are finalizing summer services, also known as Extended Year Services (ESY). Has your child been invited to participate?

              ESY provides students with disabilities special education, and in some cases related services, over the summer months. The purposes are to prevent regression and provide special education students a Free and Appropriate Public Education.

              Other academic offerings, such as summer school, remedial classes and enrichment, are different, and do not fulfill ESY requirements.

              If your child has been identified as a student requiring summer services, you may choose whether or not to accept the services. Either way, it is imperative to communicate your decision with the school or your advocate.

              If you DO plan on utilizing those services, complete and return any forms the district has sent and touch base with them to confirm dates, times and locations. If anything is different from what is contained on your child’s service delivery grid, you should contact the school, or your advocate.

              Toward the end of summer services, be sure to ask the service providers to draft a written summary of what your child completed over the time period.

              If you have decided NOT to participate in summer services, we recommend sending a letter to the district, politely waiving the services. Much like with a party invitation, an RSVP is important.

              If you have questions about summer services, or believe your child should be included and is not, please contact us via phone or email as soon as possible. We can assist you in preparing relevant information and communicating with the school.

              We wish all of our clients and friends a sunshine-filled and stress-free summer!

              photo credit: via photopin (license)

              Rejoicing vs. lamenting: One Mom's story

              • By: Christine M. Riley, Education Advocate, Cape Cod Advocate 

                We wanted to follow up on an 2009 South Coast Today article about Truman Cambra from New Bedford, and his Mom, Kris. It is reprinted below for reference.

                Truman was diagnosed at seven months old with a rare genetic disorder which causes significant circulatory issues and developmental delays, among other impacts.
                Truman came to our attention when a South Coast Today reporter called us in 2009 for input about the importance of early intervention for special needs children like Truman and others.  
                The article, below, discussed how Truman's Mom, Kris Cambra, decided to focus early on the positives in Truman's life, rather than the negatives.
                Fast forward seven years to 2015 and Kris Cambra was once again demonstrating the power of positivity, as described in the article, "Exhibit takes viewers Beyond the Diagnosis," published on Brown University's website. 

                Ms. Cambra is the Director of BioMedical Communications at Brown University and the organizer of rotating art exhibits in the science building. This art exhibit featured professional paintings and drawings of the individuals behind rare diagnoses, focusing on the person not the "case." 

                Truman, now an 8-year-old, was the subject of a portrait and of the article about the exhibit. But it was his Mom's comments that caught our attention: "We've moved on to looking at what his strengths are and just being really happy about those, and fostering those things," she said.

                Through our work at Cape Cod Advocate, we are brought into the lives of families like the Cambra's, and understand the difficulties and challenges of raising a special needs child. It is often all too easy to become bogged down in the negatives.

                As Mother's Day approaches, we thought it would be appropriate to be reminded of the Moms like Kris Cambra, and so many others, who--despite overwhelming odds--continue to focus on fostering the good in their children, and celebrating their strengths.

                  Parents of special-needs child focus on achievements

                • Truman Cambra was only 3 weeks old when he woke up one morning with breathing difficulties.
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                  • coping with A special-needs diagnosis
                    Consider getting a second opinion.
                    • Let yourself mourn, then become an advocate for your child.
                    • Read everything you can about your child's disability.
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                  • By MARSHA ZEITZ

                    Posted Jul. 2, 2009 at 12:01 AM
                    Updated Aug 4, 2009 at 4:04 PM 

                    Truman Cambra was only 3 weeks old when he woke up one morning with breathing difficulties.
                    "Every time he inhaled I heard a high-pitched noise," says Truman's 34-year-old mother, Kris Cambra of New Bedford. "It sounded as if something was obstructing his airway and making it difficult for him to breathe."
                    Kris and her husband Shawn, 38, rushed Truman to their pediatrician, who immediately advised the couple to take the child to the emergency room at either Boston Children's Hospital or Hasbro in Providence. "But take him now," the doctor said.
                    Truman was diagnosed at Hasbro with a rare pediatric cancer in his neck that required immediate surgical intervention. He was also diagnosed with a heart murmur that a cardiologist said would need monitoring.
                    The cancer surgery was successful but, in the months that followed, the infant experienced developmental delays, which his parents attributed to the child's illness and long hospital stays.
                    But it was more serious than that, and neither the cancer nor the hospitalization was to blame.
                    At 7 months, Truman was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by a distinctive facial appearance, developmental delays often coupled with strong expressive language skills, an endearing, empathetic personality and heart or blood vessel problems.
                    The Cambras faced the very strong likelihood that Truman would be a child with special needs.
                    Kris — who is a science and medicine writer at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University — says that her first reaction was disbelief. She writes in an essay recently published in "A Cup of Comfort for Parents of Special Needs Children," "Things like that don't happen to people like us. I had no concept of the type of people these things happen to. I just knew it wasn't us."
                    Psychiatrist Scott Haltzman, author of "Secrets of Happy Families," is familiar with that response.
                    "We all have unrealistic expectations of who our children will be," says Haltzman, the medical director at NRI Community Services in Woonsocket, R.I.
                    He adds that the parents of a child with special needs realize early in the relationship that "their child will be special and that its needs will be different. That's the point at which they realize that their dreams and expectations are not going to be met. It's a different experience than the average parent who simply realizes that their kid is never going to love soccer."
                    "The adjustment is much more intense," Haltzman says, "but it's a necessary part of the evolution of a parent's identity. It allows the parent to accept their child for who he or she is."
                    Once a parent has accepted a diagnosis, many experts say it's natural to go through a period of mourning for the "perfect" child they anticipated. It doesn't mean that they think their child won't have a fulfilling life or that they love them any less. It just means that they need time to adjust to a new reality, to close one door before they can go on to open another one.
                    But, for the Cambras, grieving just didn't feel right.
                    "My husband, Shawn, and I never felt it was appropriate to grieve about Truman's genetic disorder because we felt that would devalue him," Kris say. "We decided early on that what was most important in our lives was Truman's happiness and that we would do whatever was needed to help him thrive. That was what we focused on."
                    Extended family are important. They are another pair of hands to help the parents, another set of arms to hug the children. They can be a very significant part of a support system.
                    "My daughter, London, was 5 when Truman was born," says Kris. "She was remarkably well-behaved throughout the ordeal. A lot of that was, I think, because our families were so involved. They tried to keep everything as normal as possible for her."
                    Special needs can include medical, behavioral, developmental, learning and mental health conditions. Truman, now 2, has difficulty with fine and gross motor skills, a more limited vocabulary than other children his age and the ongoing medical condition of Williams Syndrome.
                    He began receiving early intervention services when he was just 5 months old because of the lengthy hospital stay for his neck cancer. Since the WS diagnosis, Truman has received a host of home-based therapies, from physical therapy to language development.
                    Providing early intervention for children with special needs is vitally important to their development. That intervention might include family-centered involvement with physical, occupational and speech therapy and the advice of a medical specialist, genetic counselor or educational psychologist. Many services are mandated by federal law and can help families lessen the impact of a child's disability.
                    "Research has shown that providing intensive services at the earliest age possible can offset the effects of disabilities," says Christine Riley, an education advocate for Cape Cod and the Islands. "The earlier the child is exposed to services, the less the chance that the disability will impact their education and their generalized functioning."
                    Having a child with special needs is never what you bargain for, but it can be an extraordinarily loving and rewarding experience.
                    "Truman is who he is," says Shawn Cambra. "At first I was worried about what he would be like. But now that he is older I can see he has this outgoing, friendly personality. He puts a smile on at least one person's face wherever we go. If given a choice, I'm not sure I'd change him."
                    Children with special needs are often defined by what they can't do; milestones that are unmet, activities that need to be avoided, experiences that are, and will always be, denied. But, for the Cambras, it is the milestones that Truman achieves that are most important.
                    "I don't know what Truman will be able to accomplish when he's an adult," Kris says, "but I do know that whoever he is, it's fine. We're not spending a lot of time lamenting things he'll never do. We're letting him show us everything he can do."
                    "Of course," she adds, "there is a certain sadness that resurfaces from time to time but, day to day, Truman is so wonderful it's hard to imagine him any other way."