Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Second Semester Senior Year Surprise- Is Your Kid Ready to Graduate?

The Second Semester
Senior Year Surprise:
Is Your Kid with a Disability
Really Ready to Graduate?
Some Top Tips for Assessing Whether
The Student Is Ready to Graduate!
by Matt Cohen
April 17, 2912

Many parents with children with disabilities have high expectations for the ability of their children to function as normally as possible after graduation. Some students with disabilities have sufficiently severe disabilities that both parents and school assume that the child may require special education services beyond their senior year. On the other hand, many students with disabilities have the capability of functioning with greater independence and may have met the graduation requirements by the end of senior year. Many parents are unaware that even children with less severe disabilities may be eligible for services from the public school system beyond their senior year. A student could be doing great academically, but have great difficulty with social skills, organizational skills or other life skills. A student may be functioning academically but have significant emotional or behavioral issues that impede their ability to function independently. A student could have good grades, but the grades are based on a modified grading system or just the efforts of teachers to pass them along and don’t really reflect mastery of needed skills. A student may even be able to do well in the high school, but have great difficulty generalizing those skills at home and in the community.
Does your student even understand his or her disability and recognize both their abilities and the kind of help they may need in the future? If not, is it realistic for them to graduate, even if they have met graduation requirements? The whole point of special education is to promote the ability of students with disabilities to function as independently as possible as adults. Grades, achievement test scores and even mastery of IEP goals do not automatically mean that the student’s special education needs have been met.

All this is supposed to be discussed during the transition planning process. Transition planning is supposed to start no later than 16 under federal law and earlier under some state laws. Transition planning should begin with evaluation of the student’s academic needs, vocational needs, and other needs that may relate to their ability to function in the world as adults. It should also address their aptitudes and interests. All this information must lead to the develop of a transition plan that includes post secondary goals, that is – goals for what the student will do after they graduate or age out of high school. The transition plan is an integral part of the IEP for students who are in high school and is supposed to be reviewed regularly as part of the annual IEP review process and more often if needed.

The transition planning process is supposed to identify the student’s interests, needs, capabilities, and areas of difficulty. Postsecondary goals are significant, as they provide a separate basis for evaluating whether the child is ready to graduate at the end of senior year. Many parents assume that if the child has met the standard graduation requirements at the end of 12th grade, they must graduate. Many schools are eager for the students to graduate and do not volunteer that the students may be eligible for continuing services even if they have met the formal graduation requirements in regular education.

Ten Key Indicators for Graduation Readiness

10) I still can’t remember my assignments or turn them in! The student continues to have difficulties with organizational skills relating to basic academic activities, despite having average intelligence and the cognitive ability to perform academic activities appropriately. They still lose instructions, don’t turn in homework on time, 8zcan’t keep track of their books, and are always late with work.

9) On the Honor Roll, but has no friends! The student is doing well academically, but has significant difficulty socially and is unable to interact well with peers, seek help, self advocate, or participate in group activities. Friends are important, but these are also skills necessary to function in college, the workplace and the community.

8) Academic & Life Skills are Great, but the Student is so depressed they can’t get up in the morning. Some students have serious emotional problems, despite act adequate daily living skills and academic skills,that prevent them from functioning effectively without significant therapeutic support and management of their emotional issues. They may need further therapeutic support in order for the student to continue in progressing towards their post secondary goals.

7) Great Progress on the IEP, but it Missed Half the Kid’s Needs! Sometimes a student may have made good progress on the needs and goals in the IEP, but the IEP did not address key areas of functioning. This can occur due to inadequate evaluation, reluctance to do too much, or denial that the problem is serious. These might include things like access to and ability to use assistive technology, lack a awareness of key community resources, transportation options and how to utilize them, or inability to seek help in an emergency. ! Despite the requirement for evaluation and periodic reevaluation, it is not uncommon to discover late in high school that the student has disabilities that were not identified, were misdiagnosed, or did not manifest themselves until the student was in adolescence. Whatever the reason that a disability has been missed, if it is likely to significantly interfere with the student’s ability to meet their post-secondary goals and function as independently as possible, it is never too late to start working on responding to newly identified problems.

6) I should be able to, but I still can’t read or do math! Many schools reduce or eliminate remediation of academic deficits for students by the time they are in sophomore or junior year. For students with LD, some schools assume that if you haven’t overcome the learning disability by then, the focus should be on accommodations only. For students with cognitive delays, the assumption may be to focus exclusively on life skills, with out realizing that reading, math and writing are life skills too. If the student has the capability of making academic progress, but needs more remediation, this can be a reason for continuing services.

5) I am great with math in the resource room, but not at McDonald’s. Many students develop skills that they can use n the school setting with considerable supports and structure, but have not had the opportunity to practice or use the skills independently. Although the student has made considerable progress with a high-level support, the student lacks the ability to function perform the skills without those supports. THE WHOLE POINT OF SPECIAL EDUCATION IS TO PROMOTE THE STUDENT’S ABILITY TO LEARN AND GENERALIZE THE SKILLS SO THEY CAN FUNCTION MORE INDEPENDENTLY IN THE COMMUNITY!!!!

4) I met graduation requirements, but not my IEP goals.
If significant IEP goals have not been mastered and the student continues to require additional time and assistance with respect to those goals and objectives, graduation may be inappropriate.

3) My transition plan listed great services from other agencies,
but none of them have been provided. Schools are allowed, even encouraged, to utilize other agencies and resources to address various transition needs for students with disabilities. For example, they may refer a student to a state operated vocational program. However, the IDEA provides that even if the transition plan provides for referral to outside agencies, if those agencies don’t provide the needed services, the IEP team must reconvene and find other ways to meet the student’s needs.

2) I met my goals, but still need more. The student may have mastered alter goals and objectives for senior year but have continuing needs in order to be able to function as independently as possible in relation to their postsecondary goals.

1) OMG. My baby will never make it. Schools are not required to cure disabilities or ensure that every student with a disability achieves full independence. But they are required to have appropriate evaluations, to have an appropriate, individualized transition plan geared to the student’s needs, aptitudes and interests, and to provide the services necessary to allow the child to have the ability to achieve the appropriate post-secondary goals developed by the team. If the student is not ready to enter the world because the school has failed to meet its obligations, the student should not graduate.
These are just some of the indicators of when students may have significant needs to justify ongoing special-education services. Many students are reluctant to continue to attend high school, as this may be perceived as a failure or retention. Many schools also have off-site transition programs or services in the community, which may help the students develop skills without having to feel that they're still in high school. In addition, high schools should have some vocational programming that allows the students have paid or unpaid work experiences to develop work-related skills. Under some circumstances, schools may not have adequate or appropriate transition services and it may be necessary to develop a program from scratch or to seek services through a private transitional program at school district expense. In any event, graduation terminates the school districts responsibility for services. If the parents object to the student's graduation at the end of 12th grade and the school is insisting on graduation, the parents may need to request a special-education due process hearing prior to graduation in order to block the graduation. Doing so requires a school to provide continuing services while the dispute is resolved. Ultimately, it may be possible to resolve the graduation issue without having to go to a due process hearing, but in any event, the school must continue to provide services while the due process hearing is pending.

The parent should also be aware that when their child turns 18, or the age of majority in the particular state, the student becomes the decision-maker, unless they have delegated authority for decisions to the parents. It's important for the parents be aware of this in advance, so that they are not caught by surprise when they are facing the student’s 18th birthday and are told that they no longer have a right to participate in the process. Schools are actually required to give parents notice of this change of responsibility when the student turned 17, but many people are unaware of this rule.
There are many creative options for students in relation to the development of meaningful transition supports, in relation to academics, vocational activities, and life skills. These do not have to be limited to services within the walls of the public high school. Be creative and remember that the transition plan is part of the INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Passover, Easter and Thoughts on Freedom

Passover and Thoughts on Freedom
By Matt Cohen

Tonight, my family gathered to celebrate the Passover Sedar. The sedar commemorates the liberation of the Jews from enslavement by the Pharoh, the parting of the Red Sea and the passage from bondage to freedom, from poverty to the land of milk and honey, from oppression to self-determination. It celebrates the transformation from slavery to freedom, from sorry to joy, from darkness to great light, from bondage to redemption. By leaving the front door open for the Prophet Elijah to join the celebration, it also conveys a message of inclusion, that any one is welcome. That the family, the community, embrace everyone.

We promote inclusion and equality, but most of our wealth is concentrated in the top few percent of the population. Many worry about the national debt and complain about taxes and government programs to assist the poor, those with disabilities, or immigrants from foreign countries. These same critics ignore the underlying values embodied in our Constitution of liberty, justice and equality for all, unless it is their own liberty, freedom or economic position that is threatened.

At a personal level, It happens that this is a time of many transitions for me, for my family, for our society, for the world. We celebrate freedom, but we must not take it for granted. We have many things that are difficult, many changes that are challenging, painful, or worse. Pain and opportunity, instability and possiblity, suffering and adaptation, and the potential to preserve much that is good, learn from mistakes and cope with the pain, while growing and building....many things that hold the potential for more freedom, at the same time that many things constrain our desires and abilities to do what we wish or to have some of what we have cherished in the past.

Whether at a societal level or a personal level, freedom defines the nature of our existence. But many take freedom for granted. Freedom is not permission to be selfish, or a pass to focus on one’s own needs to the detriment of the community. Freedom is not having permission to just do what is best for oneself without regard to the needs of others or the impact of our actions. Freedom carries with it responsibility – to oneself, to one’s family and loved ones, to one’s immediate community, and to the society and world at large. Freedom gives us the right to make choices, but the obligation to make choices responsibly, with awareness of the consequences for others as well as our selves.

Freedom is not free… is the most expensive thing there is. We must defend it fiercely, not only for ourselves but for those less powerful, those without a voice, without a house, without a vote, without a choice. Freedom does not mean ignoring others’ needs, rights, desires, but rather acting in a way that balances our own rights and needs with those of those around us.

We have the freedom to disagree, but we must do so in a way that is respectful of the right of the other person to their own opinion. We must respect majority rule, but we must be mindful of the tyranny of the majority, the corruption of power that is too concentrated, the danger that demonizing those who disagree risks stifling an open society, community, or even open communication in a family.
We are free to have children, but we have the responsibility to care for them. We are free to have relationships and marry, but we must be conscious of the needs, rights and autonomy of our partners. Freedom is not a blank check that entitles us to what we want, without regard to others. Freedom is a fine balance between oppression and anarchy, between selfishness and selflessness, between isolation and sacrificing oneself to the community. Freedom is an individual right that is protected by collective commitment. Collective freedom is protected by individual commitment.
The path to the promised land carries with it hard work, compromise, sacrifice and commitment not only to one’s own needs but to the needs of others, not only to one’s own family, but to the family of humanity. The land of milk and honey is not a utopia filled with luxury, but a place where seeds must be planted, flowers watered, weeds pulled, and the fruits of our labor harvested together. The possibility of freedom, real freedom that is not transitory or at the expense of others, necessitates an awareness that freedom is also a form of obligation. We open the door for Elijah as a message that we prepare the meal not only for ourselves but for all that are hungry. We may have to work harder and give up some of own desires at the moment to have enough food to keep the door open for those with less. This seeming sacrifice of our freedom actually helps to preserve opportunity, equality and freedom for all of us. At this moment, freedom may be a burden, even a sacrifice,, but it is also a form of insurance, an investment in the family, community, society and good of humanity, that gives us many things that would not be possible if we only acted for ourselves.

Let us walk together from oppression to freedom, arm and arm, tasting the fruits of our labor and sharing the sweat of our effort. Let us embrace the noble responsibility of freedom, not just the transient pleasure of actions we take in the name of our own freedom and self-fulfillment without regard for others or for the consequences of our actions. Let us walk to the promised land, the land that was promised for all of us, not just some of us. Happy Pesach, Happy Easter. Let these holidays be a celebration of our collective freedom and our commitment to protecting this freedom for all.