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May 12, 2009
IEP - Individualized Education Plan

What if I suspect or know that my child has a learning disability or learning issues? My child has an IEP from the school system. Do I have to follow it? What is an IEP?

Short Answer
Learning takes place in stages, and children progress through those stages at different rates. The changes are similar to the differences in how quickly children grow or reach certain “benchmarks” in their physical development. There are mental (cognitive) and learning benchmarks that signal that a child is learning at a “normal” pace. If not, then a learning disability is “diagnosed” or at the very least labeled as a “learning issue.”

A school, teacher, and/or medical professional will then decide what needs to be done to correct the problem or compensate for the condition. These interventions and plans are written in an IEP.

An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan. It is designed to be used by the people who develop it; others may decide to follow it as well or devise their own plan. An IEP includes:
  • background information about the student and what led to the diagnosis or concerns;
  • documentation, testing, and baseline measurements to describe the current situation;
  • goals that address the problem at hand and outline what intervention or remediation is planned;
  • objectives that give detailed steps to correct the situation or to increase the child’s progress as much as possible; and
  • criteria for re-evaluating this progress and subsequent testing to be compared to the baseline measurements.
More and more educators are realizing that many so-called “learning disabilities” are actually due to differences in learning style. There is no way a group classroom teacher can cater to the individual needs and learning style of every student. The teacher will often present material in several ways in recognition of these differences, but time and resources are limited. The teacher cannot teach until EVERY child has mastered the material; the class must keep moving forward and complete the prescribed material for the calendar year.

Any child who can’t keep up or who may need just a bit more help, is often overlooked. Generally, the child is passed along with the idea that he or she will get it next year. The problem is that most don’t. They keep getting further behind until they are “diagnosed” with a learning issue.

If your child is struggling, it is highly recommended that you identify his or her learning style and make adjustments accordingly. This will be the first step. If the problems persist, you will have a better idea of where breakdowns are occurring and under what circumstances. This can help you target specific areas and find a remedy.

If your child has already been “diagnosed” as having a learning disability, it’s important that you get as much information about this diagnosis as possible. Who diagnosed it? What is their area of expertise? How was it diagnosed? Through observation, testing, or a combination? Under what conditions did the observations or testing take place? Do you observe the same conditions when the child is at home, out in public, or in other settings? Was the diagnosis made solely on the basis of the child not keeping up in the classroom or not behaving in class?

The next step is to determine if there are any physiological conditions that are causing the learning problems or at the very least, making them worse. Often times there are many factors involved, and the process is much like peeling away the layers and dealing with them one by one. Contributing factors include: diet, nutrition, food allergies, medications and antibiotics, lack of exercise, growth imbalances (thyroid), hormonal imbalances, misalignment in the body, exposure to toxins during the mother’s pregnancy, exposure to toxins in infancy and toddlerhood, and reactions to immunizations.

Environmental conditions can also impact learning. These include: stress, behavioral patterns, lack of routine, disruptions in the home or classroom, class size, lack of individual attention, readiness, and, of course, learning style.

Finally, there are certain cognitive (mental or brain-related) developments that take place from birth through toddlerhood. If these developments don’t take place within a certain time frame, then learning can be impacted. An example is the development of the connections between both sides of the brain that should take place when a child is crawling.

One of the advantages of homeschooling is that the parent can take the time to examine all these issues and observe them first-hand. The more familiar you are with the conditions, the easier it is to begin to deal with them one-by-one. If your child already has an IEP, then you will need to decide if you want to follow it, have another one written, or design your own with input from experts and those “in the trenches” who have dealt with similar conditions. Incidentally, an IEP can also be developed for gifted children to ensure that they are being challenged.

There are several organizations specifically devoted to homeschooling special needs and gifted children, such as NATHHAN. These can be found by doing an Internet search. Your homeschool support group may also have contacts.

Click here for a Sample IEP Form.
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