The Connecticut State Department of Education updated their Individualized Education Program (IEP) last year to make the process easier to navigate for students, parents, and educators. Helpful as those changes are, it can still be challenging to ensure a child can thrive in school. Bay Street Pediatrics knows that current education research proves that early, individualized intervention can greatly improve educational outcomes. Where does a parent begin to find the best paths to a successful educational experience for students with disabilities?
Bay Street Pediatrics recommends that any educational intervention start by focusing on the student, their diagnosed or suspected disability, and the ways that disability impacts their learning.
For some students, the disability will impact their ability to access educational opportunities. It may be difficult to physically enter or use every opportunity in buildings or classrooms, and it could be limits in extracurricular and academic opportunities. When your student faces these challenges, they may qualify for a 504 plan. This is a provision in the Americans with Disabilities Act to help document and create accommodations for students.
Your child may need an IEP instead of, or along with, a 504. IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) work to improve the educational outcomes for students with special needs after they’ve arrived in the classroom. Once again, begin by focusing on your student, the need, and the way it impacts their intellectual development. Under the new revision, the state of Connecticut lists 15 categories of disability that qualify for IEPs, including sensory impairments like deafness and blindness, developmental disabilities like Autism Spectrum Disorder, and learning disabilities like Dyslexia.
Since some of these special needs present early in life, your child might already have a team of specialists in place, ready to help them transition into the classroom. However, some of these disabilities, especially the catch-all “Other Health Impairment” that covers ADD/ADHD, might not present until the student enters a classroom.
If you suspect a disability might be impacting your student’s academic success, begin the IEP process by referring your child for evaluation as soon as possible. This referral can be made by parents or guardians, school personnel, other outside specialists approved by parents, or even the student themselves. This process must be done in writing, and parental consent must be obtained before an evaluation begins.
Connecticut’s IEP policy centers on a PPT, Planning and Placement Team. The PPT takes care of both the initial evaluation and any accommodations resulting from the evaluation. The PPT begins with the parents and student, and then gets filled out with regular and special educators, ideally from your student’s school, a district representative, and other support providers or subject-matter experts. The PPT will first determine if an eligible disability is impacting the student by looking at the student’s academic performance holistically.
When an underlying and eligible disability is present, the PPT will begin working together to develop accommodations and supports to improve and optimize your student’s learning experience. Parents and educators will discuss ways to reinforce learning beyond the classroom and create consistent expectations, district officials will help clarify regulations and coordinate resources and everyone stays goal-oriented with the assistance of a regular reassessment schedule.
Connecticut requires PPTs to have clear goals and milestones to evaluate student progress, and clear processes for changing IEPs to meet those goals. The Connecticut PPT guidelines also allow teams to leverage expertise beyond the family and school district to provide innovative, personalized support for students.
To simplify: The goal of a 504 plan is to remove barriers to access. The goal of an IEP is to maximize learning outcomes.
When your student is struggling, no matter if it’s in kindergarten or high school, a 504 and/or an IEP can make an enormous difference in their academic success. Experts believe that about 1 in 7 people have learning disabilities and many are undiagnosed and untreated as adults. This can mean a lifetime of poor coping skills, limited job options and stunted career advancement, resulting in low self-esteem, depression and unhealthy relationships.
If your child is floundering in school, request an evaluation as soon as possible. The earlier educational interventions are made, the greater the benefits now and for a lifetime for your child.
When you need help navigating the 504 and IEP process, send a message through your patient portal. We are here to help your child grow into a healthy, happy person!