The School Age Transition
- Susan Davis; email@example.com
- Heather Ronca; firstname.lastname@example.org
When to Start?
About 6-8 months before your child’s 5th birthday, you will receive a notice from the IU indicating that your child is eligible to enroll in Kindergarten in your school district. If you have decided to enroll, or if you are not sure, then a transition meeting will be scheduled. You do not have to enroll your child in Kindergarten at age 5. You may choose to continue the services provided via the Early Intervention program for another year. Even if you are not sure what you want to do, start the process and use it as an opportunity to learn about what your school district has to offer.
Recommendation: Start investigating services and programs in your school district about 1 to 2 years in advance. Typically, Special Education services fall under the Director of Pupil Services. Call or set up a meeting to get information. Observe the different classrooms (Learning Support, Regular Ed Kindergarten or Inclusive Kindergarten, Life Skills). This is a good time to contact other parents in the district who have children in special education and find out how their experiences have been, keeping in mind that every child is different!
What Happens Next?
At the transition meeting, you will be asked to give permission for the school district to evaluate your child, and for existing early intervention records to be made available to the District.
The next step, should you decide to proceed at this time, is to develop your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Depending on the date of your most recent IEP, the school can accept your child’s current IEP, and then re-write it once they start school, or write a new IEP prior to kindergarten. The IEP is written by the educators, with input from all team members…including YOU the parent! You do NOT need to sign the IEP during the meeting. I like to take it home and read it again. Also, I always request a copy of the draft before the IEP meeting so there are no surprises (some educators will be writing it right up to the meeting and might not be able to accommodate you.
You must determine what you want for your child. This is not always easy. Generally there are three options available for children requiring special education services, Inclusion, Learning Support, and Life Skills. By law, your child has the right to a “Free and Appropriate Public Education” in the “Least Restrictive Environment” defined as the educational setting where a child with disabilities can receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) designed to meet his or her education needs while being educated with peers without disabilities in the regular educational environment to the maximum extent appropriate.
Recommendation: Sometimes parents go into their IEP meetings and assume the school district will be an adversary. Give them the benefit of the doubt and treat all team members with respect. Remember, you will be working with these people for a long time and if they respect you and your conduct, you will have an easier time in the long run getting what your child needs!
Inclusion: What is it?
Inclusion is an educational practice where students with and without disabilities are educated together with the essential supports and services in an age appropriate regular education classroom in their neighborhood school. The student will receive the same special education services; however they will be delivered in a regular education classroom. There are various teaching methods that are being used in inclusive classrooms, such as co-teaching, differentiated instruction, and others. Therapies, such as speech, OT, and PT are delivered, if the child qualifies and it is in their IEP, either in the classroom, or on a pull-out basis.
The NDSS has published a nice booklet on Inclusion, as well as a study that indicates that generally children with Trisomy 21/ Down syndrome make greater academic and social gains in an inclusive educational setting compared to segregated special education classrooms. Also, there are many other studies and resources available on the Internet searching under Inclusion. Keep in mind what inclusion is not… inclusion IS NOT dumping a child in a regular education class without proper support and expecting them to keep up.
For Inclusion to be successful, proper support services must be present, materials typically need to be adapted, and the goals, as established in the IEP, need to be worked on daily.
Learning support: What is it?
Learning support is usually where special education services are delivered in a self-contained classroom (A self-contained classroom is one in which the students share similar academic requirements. For example, all the children with disabilities in a school or school district will be contained in the same classroom). Often there are multiple grade levels and multiple levels of ability in each classroom (e.g. K- 2.) The classroom sizes are typically smaller, the teachers are special education teachers, and there may be other adults in the classroom serving as aides or classroom assistants. Sometimes children can spend part of their day in Learning Support, and part of their day in a Regular Education classroom. Also, children receiving academic instruction in a Learning Support classroom can be included with their peer group for “specials” such as Art, Music, and Physical Education.
Note: A disadvantage to special education classrooms can often be that they are not housed in your home school, and your child must be bussed to a school not in your neighborhood. Getting to know the children in your neighborhood is an important social learning opportunity! One of the drawbacks to having your child split their day in two different classrooms, is that they may not feel that they “belong” in either one. If you pursue this arrangement, take care to make sure that your child has a cubby, etc., in both rooms so that she/he is deemed to be a “member” of both classrooms, not a “visitor.”
Life Skills: What is it?
A Life Skills program generally emphasizes functional* academics, communication, self-help, social, vocational, and community living skills. It is for students who have intellectual abilities which prevent them from obtaining meaningful progress in a general education curriculum and who require instruction to prepare them to work, live, and function in the community.
* An example of functional learning would be learning to sight read signs, such as “exit”, “stop”, and “boy’s room” as opposed to learning to read books and literature.
What about a one-on-one Aide?
Depending on your past experience, this can be new territory in school age transition. A one-on-one aide is specifically assigned to your child. If you are requesting this, make sure it is written into the IEP! What does an aide do? Generally they are there to assist in making sure that the child receives the services and support that he/she needs to be successful. An aide DOES NOT replace the teacher or the special Ed teacher. An aide can also assist in daily living skills as needed, such as toileting, helping with lunch, etc. Generally, aides do not have teaching certificates or special education training, but they are now required to have a college degree. Aides are hired by and paid by the School District. If you have problems with your child’s aide, use the “normal” channels of communication, using your judgment based on the severity of the issue. Many parents have found a one-on-one aide is essential when including a child with a disability in a regular education classroom.
Communication is always important. If you have issues or concerns, then a friendly, professional letter is always in order and can really help. Stick with the facts, keep the emotions out of the letter, and make your point using polite language. A wonderful communication tool is the communication book, whereby you, the teacher and the aide can communicate on a daily basis.
My view is that this is a partnership, and berating and alienating the team that is responsible for teaching your child and helping him/her to be successful will not help. That does not mean that you should just accept situations that are less than ideal. Also, if the teachers have done something particularly well, a letter commending the specific effort would be appropriate.
Generally speaking, the level of communication on a daily basis will probably drop from what you are used to getting in E.I. This is OK, but it is hard to get used to. Many families have used charts, with varying degrees of detail, which have helped to keep them informed of their child’s day. I have always believed that more communication is better than less, so I would encourage you to provide as much info as possible.
Even things that you may think are not important, can be. A written “profile” describing your child, likes and dislikes, favorite things to do, incentives or language that you use at home, shared at your child’s IEP meeting or sent in later, can be helpful
Example: I got a note home from Sara’s Kindergarten teacher that she was “defiant” and screamed ‘NO!” when doing an activity in the classroom. It turned out that the activity was related to Johnny Appleseed where they made hats and put them on the children’s heads. My daughter has a sensory issue with things on her head. She will not wear hats, she dislikes hot showers, others combing her hair, headphones, etc. If I had told them about this ahead of time, this “problem” could have been avoided.
Teaching protocol – we have a “teaching protocol” that is included as part of our daughter’s IEP. This is very specific guidance for how to approach situations that may arise in or out of the classroom. Also, the aide’s role should be very specifically written out. For example, we wanted the aide to be available if Sara needed help outside on the playground, but not to be hovering over her, as studies have shown that the presence of an adult can hinder other children from socializing with the child. The guidelines in her IEP state that the aide should not be in close proximity to the student, but that the student should be in view.
Kindergarten in our district did not routinely give homework, although there were some small assignments that came home. At times we received work to complete at home that Sara did not finish during classroom time. First grade we received homework every night. Additionally, we had a packet of math assignments that we were to use for Sara if she could not complete the regular homework assigned for the whole class. In some cases, homework came home for Sara where it was the same as the regular class, however just recopied to reduce the amount of information on one page. You can also just cover up some of the page when working with your child so they can focus on one thing at a time. Many times we did both specially assigned homework, and the regular classroom homework. It is a lot of work, but worth it, in my opinion, to optimize your child’s success in an Inclusive classroom.
We received a progress report on the IEP goals each marking period. Since Sara was in a regular Ed classroom, we received a regular education report card showing how she was doing in the regular education curriculum. This was important as we expected Sara to learn many of the skills included in the regular curriculum and they were not specifically identified in her IEP.
Resources that can be helpful:
$ NDSS – www.ndss.org Inclusion booklet
§ Research study on Inclusion – www.NDSS.org, click on educational resources
$ Down Syndrome Educational Trust – www.downsed.org
$ Wright’s Law – www.wrightslaw.com Information on special education law, services and guidance on writing and implementing effective IEP’s , courses
$ “Creating an Inclusive School”, author Dr. Richard Villa
$ Kindergarten curriculum – obtain specific from your school district, or search online
$ Kindergarten readiness materials – available online
$ Woodbine House books – www.woodbinehouse.com – “Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome”, “Teaching Math to Children with Down Syndrome and Other Concrete Learners”
$ PA Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTan) http://parent.pattan.net/default.aspx
$ Educational Law Center – The Education Law Center (ELC), is a non-profit legal advocacy and educational organization, dedicated to ensuring that all of Pennsylvania’s children have access to a quality public education. Their website: http://www.elc-pa.org/
The ABC’s of Special Education:
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): A law that took effect in 1992 that defines “disability” and prohibits discrimination by employers, by any facility open to the general public, and by State and local public agencies that provide such services as transportation (Public Law 101-336).
Assistive Technology Device (AT): Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Public schools are required to consider the assistive technology needs of students with disabilities
Behavioral Assessment (BA): Gathering (through direct observation and by parent report) and analyzing information about a child’s behavior. The information may be used to plan ways to help the child change unwanted behaviors. Observations include when a behavior occurs as well as the frequency and duration of the behavior.
Special Education: Specialized instruction tailor-made to fit the unique learning strengths and needs of students with disabilities. A major goal of special education is to teach the skills and knowledge the child needs to be as independent as possible. Special education programs focus on academics and also include therapy and other related services to help the child overcome difficulties in all areas of development. These services may be provided in a variety of educational settings but are required by IDEA to be delivered in the least restrictive environment.
Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP): A plan that is put in place to teach a child proper behavior and social skills. It should be positive in nature, not punitive.
Due Process: A process for resolving a dispute between the family and the child and family service agency related to the delivery of early intervention services. In special education, due process refers to a process for resolving a dispute between the family and the public school related to the identification, evaluation, or placement of a child with disabilities.
Due Process Hearing: A legal proceeding, similar to a court proceeding, where a hearing officer is presented evidence by disagreeing parties. A verbatim record is taken of the proceedings, and a hearing officer writes a decision that may be appealed to the State education agency, and if desired, to a civil court.
Extended School Year (ESY): The delivery of special education and related services during the summer vacation or other extended periods when school is not in session. The purpose for ESY is to prevent a child with a disability from losing previously learned skills. The IEP team must consider the need for Extended School Year at each meeting and must describe those services specifically with goals and objectives. Not all special education students require an extended school year.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): The federal law that provides the legal authority for early intervention and special educational services for children birth to age 21. Part B outlines services for children ages three to 21. Part C outlines services for children birth to age three.
Individualized Education Program (IEP): A written statement of a child’s current level of educational performance and an individualized plan of instruction, including the goals, specific services to be received, the staff who will carry out the services, the standards and timelines for evaluating progress, and the amount and degree to which the child will participate with typically developing peers (Inclusion/Least Restrictive Environment). The IEP is developed by the child’s parents and the professionals who evaluated the child and/or are providing the services. It is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for all children eligible for special education.
LRE – defined as the educational setting where a child with disabilities can receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) designed to meet his or her education needs while being educated with peers without disabilities in the regular educational environment to the maximum extent appropriate.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB): Reauthorized in 2001, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the principal federal law affecting education from kindergarten through high school for children “at risk.” The NCLB provides opportunities for children to learn and progress.
NOREP – Once the IEP team develops your child’s Individualized Education Program, you will receive a Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (NOREP). The NOREP explains the recommended educational placement or class for your child, and explains your rights. You must approve the IEP and your child’s educational placement in writing before the school is allowed to begin implementation.
Prior Written Notice (PWN): Must inform parents of their rights. It is a form that the school must use to tell parents why they’re doing what they’re doing or why they’re not doing what they’re not doing—they must tell parents in writing.