Did you ever think that having a kid would come with so much paperwork? Right after my daughter was born I decided I needed a binder to keep track of everything-- her immunization records, birth certificate, social security card, the chart of her weight and height over time, etc. I learned quickly that having things organized in a way that I can easily find and understand is crucial to my sanity.
When you have a child with a disability, the additional paperwork can quickly spiral out of control. We're talking evaluation reports, therapist or office referrals, drafts of IEPs, homework samples...there is truly no limit to the number of papers you may want to keep on hand in order to reference later if needed.
Do you have a system for organizing all of these documents? While I love creating resources for you guys, I'm also a big fan of not reinventing the wheel and today's Free Resource Friday will help you create a system to keep these documents at your fingertips.
This free PDF IEP Binder Checklist from Understood.org has everything you need to create an organized binder for your child's file. The checklist is broken down into the following categories, and I suggest having a different, divided section in your binder for each one:
1. Communication: In this section, you'll want to include contact info for every member of your child's team, a record of when you've had contact with them (via email or in-person) and any emails from the school that you want to keep a record of.
2. Evaluations: Here you'll want to include any evaluation reports that were provided by the school, reports that you've had done privately, and any requests or consent to evaluate. If you have requested an evaluation and it was denied, also include a copy of your written request and the school's written denial.
3. IEP: This is obvious! I suggest including your child's current IEP as well as their previous IEP so that you can compare changes. Additionally, I suggest you keep a blank piece of paper for your parent concerns as you will want to get these in writing as they come up. Then, when you have your next meeting you've already got your concerns written and ready. You'll also want to include a copy of your procedural safeguards here. I suggest also including notes you've taken during IEP meetings in this section.
4. Report Cards: This section should include any formative progress information that is provided by teachers or therapists, in addition to quarterly formal evaluations.
5. Sample Work: This is so important! I suggest keeping sample work from each major academic subject and work that demonstrates deficits or progress in related skills (such as poor handwriting or inattention).
6. Behavior: In this section you'll want to keep a record of disciplinary actions, office referrals, any behavior data that you or the school team has collected, your child's behavior intervention plan (if applicable) as well as any notes from meetings regarding behavior (such as a manifestation determination meeting).
7. Medical information: I added this one as it's not on the given checklist. Please consider including a section with applicable medical information for your student-- this could include doctor's notes recommended certain accommodations, copies of prescriptions if your child needs to have medication administered at school, or even medical contact information (and releases) if you feel comfortable sharing that with the school. You never know when you might need this info!
If you haven't gleaned this already, you're going to want a BIG binder for this-- I suggest at least 2-2.5". Get a binder and download the checklist from Understood.org to get started!
While it can seem like a hassle getting all of this in order, having an organized binder that you can bring to IEP meetings is crucial to helping you feel in control and prepared.
Do you have a unique way of organizing your child's paperwork? We'd love to hear about it! Share on our Facebook page and see what others are talking about.
Let's face it: schools these days are not structured for kids who are kinesthetic, tactile, or hands-on learners. Most of the classrooms I've visited recently are shockingly passive. The teacher stands at the front as the purveyor of knowledge and the students are expected to sit still, sit quietly, and complete their work with attention.
Specials like drama and art are being cut. Recess time is getting shorter and shorter while English and math blocks can span 2 hours or more.
Kids today spend more time sitting in school than ever before, and you don't have to be an educational researcher to realize...
This set-up does not work for all kids.
Developmentally, kids need time and space to move their bodies. Not only does activity increase learning results (research "Whole Brain Teaching" for more) but it also increases attention and combats the health consequences associated with being sedentary.
If you've got a student who just needs to get the wiggles out, Go Noodle is for you.
Go Noodle is a website with a simple concept-- make activity in the classroom, or at home, FUN for kids. Once you register for a free account, you'll have access to thousands of short videos with follow-along directions to get your student moving.
Each video is between 1:30 and 3:30 minutes long and you can pick the purpose of the video-- guided dance, stretch, breathing, work out, call and response and more. Some videos are just for fun, like "Chicken Dance", while others are educational, like "Water Cycle." Each video is brightly colored, engaging, and includes easy dance moves that students can emulate.
These videos are fun, motivating, and help to break up the sit-and-learn schedule that students often face at school and at home with increasing amounts of homework.
Check out Go Noodle and let us know what you think! Head over to our Facebook page to share your thoughts about this cool tool and how you might use it with your student!
I'm sure I'm not the only person who looks back with nostalgia on my years in college. What an experience, right? Being surrounded by peers, having food at your fingertips in the dining hall, having no real responsibilities (other than going to class and doing homework which at the time felt overwhelming...how funny). College is truly a transformational time for students, filling a needed space between the structure of high school and the insanity of the real world.
But what about our students with disabilities? Do they not also need time and space to ease into post-high school life? Absolutely-- it's why we start transition planning between 14-16 years old. But now, more than ever, having a traditional college experience is possible for our students who have previously been excluded from this life-changing option.
Yes, you heard that correctly: Your student with a disability may very well be a candidate to attend college after high school.
There are now 268 college programs located in 47 states that explicitly cater to students with disabilities-- including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These programs are creating options for students with Down syndrome, autism, speech and language deficits, physical disabilities, genetic conditions, and so much more. You may be tempted to immediately think, "Well, this certainly isn't for my student, s/he's too _________ (or not __________ enough)." Hear me out here! I'm not talking about traditional universities that simply have a Disability Services office. These are universities that have programs created specifically to serve those students who would not have been able to enroll (or who would not likely have been successful while enrolled) otherwise.
The options that are available now are more inclusive than you can possibly imagine.
Because there are options in nearly every state, and because more than half of our states offer 3 or more inclusive programs, students with disabilities are not limited anymore by whatever program will agree to take them.
Students with disabilities who are interested in college are now embarking on the same journey as any other student to find the right college program for them. And for our students with disabilities finding the right fit is even more important.
This is why I am providing a copy of our College Considerations Checklist for free to my subscribers for today's Free Resource Friday! This checklist walks students (and parents!) through 8 questions that they must decide when evaluating the type of college program that is right for them. Many of the parents I work with are overwhelmed-- they never considered college for their student with a disability and they aren't sure where to start!
This checklist will help you narrow down what's important for your student and give you an idea of where to search to identify programs that will meet your student's needs.
This checklist is only available to my subscribers. If you're interested in receiving this checklist, along with future free resources, please sign up for our weekly email blast using the Subscribe button below! We can't wait to share with you.
And in the meantime, enjoy this video of a student with Down syndrome opening his college acceptance letter. How's that for a happy Friday message?
Let me tell you a story about my sisters. I have an identical twin sister who is 5 minutes older and a younger sister who is 10 years younger. I guess this makes me the middle child, sort of. My twin sister and I are pretty similar (shocking, I know!)-- we are structured, cerebral, and Type A...which often means we're controlling, anxious, and generally less fun.
Our younger sister is the opposite. She is a free-spirit with all the time in the world for spontaneity. She is an artist, a fantastic amateur cook, and she dresses so well. She is definitely the Type B to our Type As (or the P to our Js if you're into Meyer's-Briggs). While she is so much fun, she can also be disorganized and prone to procrastination.
And you know what this meant when she was in her early school years?
That she had a history of forgetting, or ignoring, her school work until the very last minute...until there was a massive explosion of sobs and crumbled papers at 10pm on a Wednesday night while we all pitched-in on a last-minute, thrown-together book report on a book that none of us had read.
And it is not very fun to live like that... for anyone. Luckily, she has (mostly) learned to prioritize her work as she's gotten older.
But what if you're still stuck in that homework drama cycle that is making everyone want to pull out their hair?
Today's Free Resource Friday spotlights an AWESOME tool that you can use to help avoid the late nights and tears. Have you heard of the MyHomework Student Planner App?
This app is a one-stop-shop for helping your child organize all of their school-related needs. Some of my favorite features include:
The MyHomework Student Planner app is available free to use on ANY device and platform (ipad, iphone, android phone or tablet, Windows computer or Mac). And as always, I'm not being compensated for this review-- I just want to share another great FREE resource that I have seen have major benefits for some of my students with disabilities, particularly those who struggle with executive functioning skills.
Have you used an app like this to help your student get organized? We'd love to hear about it! Share in the comments on our IEP Guru Facebook page!
Note: I realize that this particular tool will likely be most useful to students who are in a general education classroom and who have a fairly typical academic load. Be on the lookout for resources in the coming weeks that will apply more broadly to students with disabilities of all levels!
In the special education community we talk a lot about "unwritten rules." These are the social expectations that we intuitively "know" without really having to think about it. For example:
Everyone faces the door when you are in an elevator.
If there are empty seats on a plane (hey Southwest!) or in a classroom, you leave a seat between you and the next person.
If you pass someone while walking, you give them a soft smile and a slight raise of your head-- you don't have to explicitly greet everyone you see.
If someone has their headphones in when they're out in public, it means "Don't talk to me."
Think back: Did anyone ever explicitly teach you these things? In all likelihood the answer is no. You picked up on them either by 1) watching how the world works or 2) you "broke" an unwritten social rule and the awkwardness that ensued was so palpable you never did it again.
We have some kids, however, who don't simply "pick up" these rules. For some students (particularly those with autism or who are otherwise neurodiverse) they need to be taught these "secret" expectations and how they are supposed to respond.
For this task, I suggest using a Social Story.
A social story (concept created, copyrighted, and trademarked by Carol Gray) is a written narrative of appropriate social skills for a particular situation-- they tell the story of how a person would navigate a particular challenge in a successful way.
Here's a short example of a social story about washing your hands:
At school, everyone is required to wash their hands. Washing our hands gets rid of germs and bacteria that can make us sick. Washing my hands keeps me and others healthy. When I wash my hands, it makes others feel safe and comfortable. If I don't wash my hands, other people might think I am dirty and might not want to play with me. I will wash my hands in the cafeteria before lunch and after I go to the bathroom. I will always wash my hands when I'm asked.
Short stories like this provide students with several supports. First, they give a student context for where and when this behavior is to be performed. The story describes the social situation, the action required, and why (in the story above-- in the cafeteria/bathroom; hand washing; to stay healthy). Next, it gives perspective for how other people view this action (it makes people feel comfortable; it prevents social isolation). Lastly, it provides direction (I will wash my hands in two different settings; I will wash my hands when asked).
Instead of assuming that the student knows how to respond, we explicitly teach what we want from them in a given situation, and ideally, we review it every day until it becomes a habit.
Here are some great FREE examples of social stories that cover common social challenges for students:
Carol Gray Social Stories Sampler
PBIS World Social Stories List
How to Write a Social Story
A social story can be written for literally any social situation that your student struggles with. In addition to the free resources above, Carol Gray has some books that you can buy with even more examples and samples of common social stories.
I encourage you to try it out and let us know how it goes! Has your student benefited from the use of social stories? Share about it with us on the IEP Guru Facebook page!