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I Wish I Would've Known About IEPs and Inclusion from Day One

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When my son was first diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I knew we would be looking at therapy, that at age three he would begin preschool, and that the word “IEP” was being discussed around us.

I had a very loose and generic understanding of what that document meant. I knew it included therapy, and services but I didn’t understand the importance of being present and included in the conversation of inclusion, push-in or pull out services, placement and what acronyms like LRE (least restrictive environment) meant for my son in correlation to his peers and their learning spaces at school.

The subject of inclusion wasn’t one I had a full understanding, clear mission, or opinion of at the IEP table. In the early years I remember just being thankful he was getting to attend the preschool we had hoped he would be accepted into, and I had no concept that it was his right to be in school with his peers, it wasn’t luck or hope. 

“Standard inclusion” seemed to be a term more veteran moms than I often used. They discussed that their child attended school in a “specialized classroom” but got to have “standard inclusion time”, aka recess, lunch, and specials. Again, was this just a standard offering, or did we have better and more appropriate options for our children I began to wonder. The answer is yes, inclusion experiences should be as individualized as the goals and accommodations you are writing and discussing at the IEP meeting, and inclusion should be happening across all school environments. 

So, if you think “standard inclusion packages” are what’s best, appropriate, the only option for your child, please continue to read because I want you to know the things I didn’t back then.

1. Specials - Does your child enjoy music? Art? Can they access physical education class without modifications, or do they need a modified P.E. class to be successful? All of these questions and so many more are important when choosing specials as an inclusion experience. That’s right, “when choosing”, this is not a do one or none decision. We want inclusion to be meaningful and positive for the student. So, if art is very non-preferred, or the extensive fine motor skills needed to participate are stressful and unenjoyable to the child we are writing the IEP for, then this isn’t the best fit for an inclusive experience for them. And that is ok! 

2. General Education Experiences - Meaningful inclusion should be student-centered, a true knowledge of the child's interests, weaknesses, and strengths are necessary to make decisions about what will be successful and appropriate for each child. We want to also make sure the team is working on pre-teaching strategies to help prepare the student for what the expectations are in that environment, that staff is communicating with each other about seating, materials, and schedules so that we aren’t walking into a room without proper preparations being done ahead of time. 

3. Extra Curricular Activities - This section of the IEP always seems to be a quick one or two line sentence written out towards the end of the document. It typically reads somewhere along the lines of “This student will have the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers, This includes assemblies, sports, field trips, etc.” and the district representative reads the sentence and the team moves on. Not until I became a Master IEP Coach® and became more comfortable asking questions at the meetings for my own child and my clients did I ask about specifics. So, if your child needs bus accommodations, aide support, a nurse for feeding during lunch on a field trip, make sure you are breaking this section down and being need specific. Yes, this means your child has the right to join the bowling team, sign up to run cross country, go to the zoo with their class, or try-out for the musical if that is meaningful and important to them. 

Whatever ideas, requests, or solutions your IEP team decides are the most appropriate and most beneficial inclusion experiences for your child or your student, make sure the document outlines these experiences in a way that is specific enough that everyone understands what the student needs to be adequately supported. Because that’s the key to positive inclusion times at school, the student should feel confident during their time, supported, and most importantly it needs to be a meaningful experience for them, it is not just a destination written into the IEP document. 

About the Author:

Amanda DeLuca lives in Ohio with her family, her older child is on the autism spectrum and is what inspired her to become a Master IEP Coach® to work with helping families feel more confident in their IEP decisions. Amanda is the board president for the More Than Foundation, teaches dance at her studio, and blogs about her experiences of being a special needs parent at Jackson's Journey, Jackson's Voice.

Amanda's Blog: Jackson's Journey, Jackson's Voice

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If you liked this and want more IEP strategies, then you’ll love these episodes of the Special Education Inner Circle podcast: 

#147 Helping Neurodiverse Students Access the Curriculum with Emily W. King

#144 Inclusion with Fun and Functional Tech

#137 Get Inclusion Collaboration Minutes in the IEP




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