Saturday, May 19, 2012

The conversation of Assistive Technology in the IEP

I am asked on a regular basis about “How do I get AT for my Child” actually the question more sounds like “How can I get a laptop for my child?” Or  “I want an iPad for my child”. The answer is simple, it is a conversation at an IEP meeting. Consideration is part of the IEP meeting. Under IDEA, the team must consider assistive technology for every child on an IEP and for students with a 504 plan. You also have to remember that consideration is not equal to evaluation, it is a conversation.  Which means as a member of the team, you can ask is Assistive technology going to be considered.

In the conversation for consideration, you have to have your specific points in mind. You are working on persuading your team that AT is something that needs to be considered for your child for specific tasks. Often I hear from parents and the line is “I know there has to be something that will make it easier and better.” Honestly, often AT can enhance a child’s learning and ability for output but it is not the magic key that is needed to make it easier and better. The reason that it may not be easier because every intervention brings its own barrier. A new tool means that something needs to be learned and implemented and if the individual that needs to use the tool does not feel like using something NO one can make them use it.

The first thing you need to do is make  sure you have specific needs that you see as a concern.  Your child is lacking access to literature because he/she can’t turn a page, isn’t reading at grade level but is in mainstream classes or reading comprehension is poor not because of a language deficit.  You need to articulate how this impacts on your child's ability to participate in his/her education.  It is important to point out that these are concerns and not point out the tools you feel will work for your child. Even though you know your child better than anyone sitting at the table, you may not be aware of the tools used in the district already and since this is a conversation, no one dictates what tools are needed. This is an opportunity to brainstorm ideas and no one is wrong. Everyone has an equal say even if it sounds off the wall. Yes, there are times it is hard to sit with a straight face when someone recommends something from out in left field. There are times those left field comments have validity. It is important to note, if your child has had AT tools in their IEP previously this does not mean that you don’t perform consideration at the IEP meeting.

Follow up for understanding

The second step is always making the request in writing. I often  tell parents to either have the ready to present at the IEP meeting so it is very clear that you expect assistive technology to be seriously considered and that the consideration process is conducted in a timely manner. Or I suggest digest what you heard at the IEP meeting, the discussion you had and send a letter of understanding on what the school is going to do about assistive technology consideration be it a school based assessment or an “expert” model assessment. You have to remember if it is not written, it is not real.

The assessment

The third is to make certain that you as a team member are clear on what model the district follows. There are very few schools based assessment teams in NJ. So often you land up with an “expert model”. This means your child is seen 1 time which is typically a document review, observation, and hands on with technology then a report is generated. Since you know your child best it is best to advocate for your child before the district contacts the vendors. If you feel your child would benefit from multiple visits for the assessments lay that out with your justifications. For instance, “The team expressed at the IEP meeting and in the PLEPS, Ryan often is very alert and can coordinate his movements in the AM but by the afternoon his coordination changes. I feel would benefit Ryan to see the AT consultant on multiple days (3 times) so  he/she can see his abilities throughout the day. This will allow the consultant to see the student 3 periods of the day and see different environments and the supports in those environments as well as seeing the changes that are happening physically and cognitive changes.  It is also important for the parent to ask the district to supply the name of the agency conducting the assessment and asking if you can interview the person who will be responsible for the assessment. Ask the evaluation their procedures, timeline for report and what should be the next step. Parents need to remember an outside evaluator being independent of the school so if the parent wants the evaluator at the IEP meeting to discuss the result then they need to request that. And just because recommendations are made in the report doesn’t mean the district has to follow the recommendations. Recommendations are merely suggestions for the team to consider.

If the school is having district teams perform the assessment process, ask for the members of the team that will be conducting the assessment, ask to meet with the team and get a timeline of when your child will be seen and when will you reconvene for the results. You want to make sure the individuals that are doing the assessment are familiar with AT and have ongoing training (conferences, workshops, online classes). If the person has taken a certification program through the state, private agency asks to see what the curriculum was and how much time went into training the individuals. When a school team conducts the assessment they will work within the confines of the district policy and procedures. They will focus on the tools that fall within UDL and what is currently placed in the district.  Universal Design for Learning is a concept that says these tools can support all learners regardless of disability. The tools offer support that your child could and may already be benefiting from for instance, text to speech (the computer speaking as a student writes), talking dictionary (a work is typed in student hears the word and definition) or offering word prediction ( software/app  used to suggest completions of words that start with a specific letter and content). For some students it can be picture support software.

I love to perform school based assessments because I have all the disciplines (OT, PT, SLP, Classroom teacher), it also allows us to work on Goals and Outcomes for the evaluation and possible solutions. Each person brings something to the table.    With a school assessment the tools are often trialed for a period of time (2-4 weeks) so the assessment team can see if the product works for the student in real time and not in isolation of a made up activity for the individual to complete.  With a school based assessment you have on-site supports that are there when they are needed not days later.

Support and Training

Parents please be aware that a school based consideration is not the team placing AT tools in the IEP without assessment unless it is something that was determined previously.  Anyone can write supports into the IEP but can they back up those supports are being appropriate for the individual (data).  If a support tool is written into the IEP who is responsible for the use of that tool, how often and when will it be used (what activities).  Ask if the tool is a UDL or specific to your child. You don’t need to know it is going to be used on Mon-Wed- Friday but you want to know how often your child will access the tool and what type of activities (long assignments, behavior reinforcement, filling out worksheets).  I
In your child’s IEP you want to make sure you list the supports that are needed. This needs to be spelled out under related services. If the tool is new to the staff, you and the child more supports are needed until they become comfortable with the tool. Depending on the tool this can vary. For the tool word prediction, I typically will recommend 2-3 visits. One visit to go over the mechanics of the tool, one visit to go over fine tuning the tool and the third visit to make sure everyone is comfortable with the device. Included in the request I might ask for 3 consultant session that can be used sometime in the school to help with problems that the staff is having. Consultations' are session that may or may not be used. If it is a school based team most times the services are similar so many visits per week or month and consultant as needed.
It is important to remember these points:

  • Consideration is what is required under the law. 
  • Anyone can bring up the conversation at the IEP meeting.
  • Consideration does not equal evaluate. It determines if interventions are needed and who can do the assessment.
  • Don’t demand a specific tool but talk about outcomes what your child needs to be doing that he/she is not doing.
  • Make sure you are clear on expectations if an “expert” evaluation is being requested. 
  • Training and support are even more important than the tools. If you have a tool and no one knows how to use it, what good is the tool?