Learning Disabilities and IEPs

Teacher bending over young male student who is sitting at a desk, writing in a notebook

I accepted long ago that our son's journey would be different. As a 3-year-old, he had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for speech issues, and in second grade, we received a diagnosis of his learning disabilities. In those early school years, he needed extensive educational intervention to improve his writing. At his fifth-grade IEP meeting, the school dropped his learning-disability classification. By eighth grade, tests showed he was extremely gifted in critical thinking and verbal abilities, but his written expression had not improved in three years. We needed to advocate to have his learning-disability classification reinstated so he would have help improving in that area.

Christian parents can address challenges such as these with the sure confidence that God will equip them for the task of raising their children with special needs. After working with the local school system on 14 different IEPs for my son, I've learned that certain approaches are helpful in developing effective educational plans:

Know your role. While it's important to respect educators and specialists and be open to their recommendations when developing an IEP, parents are ultimately responsible for shepherding their children to adulthood. This means you may need to stand your ground if you believe certain requests are necessary to meet your child's needs. Certainly you should maintain a cordial tone, but be persistent and become informed regarding your child's rights. Because parents typically know best their child's strengths and needs, as well as what motivates and discourages him, they are the most important adults on the IEP team. Remember, you are your child's most valuable advocate.

Point out strengths. Often, your child's strengths can point the way to helpful accommodations that can be written in the IEP. For example, a child who struggles with reading might have strong auditory processing skills. That child can use audio resources in place of textbooks. Or, if your child struggles with written expression but not verbal expression, the IEP can include an accommodation that allows for verbal testing.

Take the long view. Because an IEP is written annually, others at the table will be more focused on a one-year perspective. You can provide a lifelong view when discussing the desired outcomes for your child. Make sure you understand the goals in the IEP to help ensure that they’re reasonable and measureable.

Stay engaged. Writing a good IEP is only the first step. Once it's written, stay vigilant and make sure it is implemented effectively. While there were some teachers who chose to disregard our son's IEP, most of them recognized our son's gifts. They spent countless hours on verbal work, allowing him to demonstrate his mastery of the material with less writing.

Pray without ceasing. Pray faithfully at each step in the process, trusting God with the results. Ultimately, you are serving Him in bringing up your child. He expects you to do what you can as a parent, but He is responsible for the outcomes.

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