One of the things I’ve done the most of in the eight years I spent at the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities is listen to parents’ concerns. Parents of children on the Autism Spectrum have lots of them. Sometimes, I had to get a bit harsh in giving the advice I was paid to give. Why is this bluntness sometimes needed? Because as ASD parents we don’t have a lot of spare time. I honestly believe that even at best, a home with ASD in it runs at crisis mode the majority of the time. We ASD parents want information we can put to good use in supporting our children and planning for that most concerning time in their lives; the time when we are no longer there.
One little shortcut in dealing with a public school education with an Individualized Education Plan is this: remember what your child is entitled to with the protection of that document, a Free and Appropriate Education, or “FAPE.” Here is where my blunt-as-a-spoon take comes in: it is “free and appropriate,” it is not “free and red carpet.”
Although every good parent on the planet wants the very best for their child, and probably everybody at the IEP table wants the very best for that student, too, (and most likely will work very hard to make that education as close to top of the line as possible) the reality is, that is not what your child is entitled to under the law.
Why is this important to remember? It is important so that when you approach the planning process you don’t go in with pie-in-the-sky, unreachable expectations for the school. That’s counter-productive. Although it isn’t a bad thing, in fact is helpful, to express what your hopes and goals are, often parents have a long list of things which they are certain–and sometimes have private professional prescriptions or reports to recommend these–their student needs the school to provide in order to get the best education possible. While, in my experience, the schools and team will do everything they can to help a child achieve maximally, they simply cannot provide all the things on some of these lists. What they are required to provide is an appropriate education, which of course means differing things depending on the individual student’s present levels of performance, strengths, and needs. Appropriate means that the child is making educational progress. It doesn’t mean that because they are three years ahead in mathematics a professor comes over from Stetson at the district’s expense.
This may all sound a bit snarky, but there are practical reasons why I bring up the topic. A good, realistic understanding of FAPE can be useful going into the meeting. Having high goals for your child is good parenting; there are lots of things you can do to build those stairs and help your child climb them. Teachers are experts at coming up with, and sharing, tools to supplement the IEP-driven learning path. It makes for a more effective team if parents don’t go in demanding services which outreach FAPE. A productive meeting is one in which everyone is on the same page. If you are on different planets, you can’t be on the same page.
I suggest thinking long and hard about what you, as a parent, bring to the table. As I’ve said in other posts, get to know the school through volunteering. Share with the team what outside resources you are using or considering for enhancing your student’s education. Be open to ideas those who work with your child might have. Share tools you know work with your child. But, try not to go in with the expectation that your child is going to get a top-of-the-line, customized education in a public school setting. It can and does happen, but school districts can’t work miracles. Having a realistic perspective helps place supports for your child which will help them with acquiring the knowledge and skills to be that ideal learner–a life-long one.
As ever, I welcome your comments.
Here’s a link with information about FAPE: