What Parents Need to Know About Navigating the IEP Process, with Therapist Beth Liesenfeld
If you’re the parent of a differently wired kid with a diagnosed learning disability, you likely have had experience with Individualized Education Plans, otherwise known as IEPs. And if this is you, my hunch is you have some feelings about IEPs and the whole process — the stresses, the unknowns, the fact that it might feel like you have to understand a completely different language just to get the services and supports your child needs and deserves in schools.
So, I thought it was about time I dedicated a whole episode to the subject of IEPs, and I invited occupational therapist Beth Liesenfeld, the woman behind a company, podcast, and resource called The IEP Lab, to answer your questions around how parents can better prepare for an IEP meeting, what actually makes a good IEP, and how we can go about making changes on an IEP if we realize the accommodations aren’t being effective or if a school isn’t following through in the way the IEP outlines. I really hope this episode helps you decode some of the parts of the IEP process that seemed confusing and empowers you to show up differently in your next meeting!
About Beth Liesenfeld
Beth Liesenfeld, MOT, OTR/L is an occupational therapist passionate about providing “insider” information of the school’s process and culture to parents in order to increase collaboration between parents and school staff! Her company, The IEP Lab, provides online workshops and courses as well as produces The Parent IEP Lab Podcast.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- What parents actually need to know before they go into an IEP meeting
- The criteria for designing an effective and supportive IEP
- The intention behind the goals written into any IEP, and how to create goals that lead to hoped-for outcomes
- What parents can do if their children’s school doesn’t follow through on the accommodations provided in their child’s IEP
- How to include accommodations for students who are struggling with school refusal and therefore may not be meeting attendance requirements
- What the IDEA says about seeking an IEP for twice-exceptional children who may be performing “adequately” but aren’t reaching their potential
Resources mentioned about navigating the IEP process
- How to Feel Heard and Communicate Who Your Child is with Ease: How to Write a Vision Statement! (The IEP Podcast – Episode 41)
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Debbie Reber 00:00
This season of Tilt Parenting is being brought to you by the Differently Wired Club. If you’re looking to dive deeper with me and get live personal coaching, support, be part of an incredible parent community and focus on creating significant change in your parenting world. Check out my Differently Wired Club program, doors open for a few days, at the end of every month, Learn more at tiltparenting.com/club
Beth Liesenfeld 00:25
If you can kind of stay one step ahead of this process and say, Hey, you guys are missing this big emotional regulation piece or even if your child is being qualified under specific learning disability, but you also suspect that they have anxiety and they’re having some behaviors around anxiety, that anxiety needs to be in there, right? Even if they’re like, Oh, it doesn’t relate to the specific learning disability, it doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be comprehensive. And so in that way, then you can look at the IEP and say, okay, is every need or challenge in that present level being supported somewhere in the IEP down the line?
Debbie Reber 01:08
Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host, Debbie Reber. If you are a parent of a neurodivergent kid with a diagnosed learning disability, you likely have had experience with individualized education plans, otherwise known as IEPs. And if this is you, My hunch is you have some feelings about IEP s and the whole process. The stresses, the unknowns, the fact that it might feel like you have to understand a completely different language, just to get the support and services your child needs and deserves in school. So I thought it was about time I dedicated a whole episode to the subject of IEPs and I invited occupational therapist Beth Liesenfeld, the woman behind a company a podcast and resource called The IEP Lab to answer your questions around how parents can better prepare for an IEP meeting, what actually makes a good IEP, and how we can go about making changes on an IEP if we realize the accommodations aren’t being effective, or if a school isn’t following through in a way that the IEP outlines. Beth is an incredibly knowledgeable expert on this subject. And as you will hear she is truly passionate about providing insider information of the school’s process and culture to parents in order to increase collaboration between parents and school staff. Through her own school experience, Beth saw inequity and parents’ ability to advocate for quality IEP for their child. And now she teaches parents a four step process to effectively advocate for their children within the schools through online workshops and interactive supportive online courses. So I really hope that this episode helps you decode some of the parts of the IEP process that may seem confusing, and that empowers you to show up differently in your next IEP meeting.
Debbie Reber 03:08
Before I get to that there is a new way to engage with me and the podcast this season. I love making the show and getting to have thoughtful conversations with guests like Beth and truly in every single episode I am sparked in unexpected ways. And I always find myself wanting to go deeper into the topics and now that’s possible. I’m partnering with a new social platform for book and podcast clubs called Fable to host a special Tilt Parenting Pod Club. What’s a pod club? Well, it’s like a book club. But for podcasts. So together, we can go deeper on every single episode this season and share highlights, comments, questions, related resources. And also this pod club is completely free to join my new pod club and the follow up chat surrounding today’s conversation with Beth. Just download the Fable app on your phone or device and search for tilde parenting or go to tildtparenting.com/fable For a direct link. I hope to see you there. And now here’s my conversation with Beth Liesenfeld on what you need to know about IEPs
Debbie Reber 04:20
Hey, Beth, welcome to the podcast.
Beth Liesenfeld 04:22
I’m so excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
Debbie Reber 04:26
Thank you for agreeing to come on and take all my questions about IPs. As I was saying before I hit record. We’ve certainly talked about IEPs. I’ve had educational advocates on the show. We’ve talked to some parents about their own experience, but I haven’t had an IEP expert on the show. So I’m really looking forward to this. I have a lot of questions. But I would like if we could start by having you just introduce yourself who you are, what you do in the world and then a question I asked my guests always is their personal why for the work that they do you Yeah,
Beth Liesenfeld 05:00
Yeah, so my name is Beth Liesenfeld, I’m an occupational therapist by training. And I started Tthe IEP Lab, which is my company in 2020, before the pandemic, actually. And what happened was, I was an adaptive horseback riding instructor, actually, before I came to OT, and so very, very heavily interacted with parents. And so that’s always been my jam is working with parents. And I worked in early intervention, and I worked in outpatient therapy. And I always knew that I was going to be in schools, I come from a family of educators who probably knew all along that I was going to land there. And so when I came into the school setting that first year, I was like, Oh, my gosh, this is different. Because it is not parent centered, it is not even parent friendly. And so occupational therapists from our training were from a medical background. So yeah, we had maybe one class that talked about schools. And within that, we looked at one IEP. So I came into that first year, and I was like, what are all these acronyms? Why are you all calling each other friend like, what is up with the culture of the school, it’s so different. And so I got through that first year and started getting into, you know, I had 18 IEP meetings per year. And there came a time where I just started interrupting these meetings. So to make sure that parents really knew what was happening, because the process is so confusing, both the language and just like what’s coming in, like the context of what the district can and can’t do. And so I started wanting to pull parents aside before meetings during meetings, and just say, hey, like, this is what’s going on in the background, or, Hey, this got granted to a family two hours ago, because of this, this and this. And I, of course, didn’t have the opportunity to do that. Because if people aren’t really familiar with occupational therapists in schools, we’re a related service. So we’re never really the case manager. In certain states, we can be but most states we’re not, we don’t have a lot of parent contact. And so there wasn’t a lot of room or space for me to do some parent education. And so when I started my podcast, the parent IEP lab podcast, this was my bed, I was like, Hey, this is what this term means. This is what this acronym means. So that’s the whole premise of my podcast is just kind of what I wish that I would be able to tell parents so that it makes it easier for them, because this is a really, really hard process. But the cool thing that happened when I started studying parents and being an IEP s is that, when I was in all these meetings, I actually took a break from maternity leave, came back with fresh eyes. And I was in seven IEP meetings in that one week. And most of it was with the same IEP school team. So same case manager, same school psychologists that was in every meeting. And every single meeting had a different tone coming out of that meeting, some of those IEPs were totally amazing. And we were all excited to implement this IEP, we understood who this kid was, what they needed, and our part in that. And then some meetings just fell flat. And some of them were just terrible and tension filled. And I started studying the patterns and parents of like, what is it about this parent that changed this outcome of the IEP meeting? And it was about this, like background knowledge, and also having the confidence to ask these questions. And so that just kind of fed into the podcast more and more where I was, like, I feel for those kids who aren’t getting the best out of their school IEP team. Sometimes that’s the parent education. And sometimes that’s just the school IEP team being difficult, let’s say, but I felt like I could make a big difference in connecting those two and really providing that parent education to bridge the gap between those two systems.
Debbie Reber 08:48
That is so awesome. I just think about you in all of those meetings where you’re just feeling incredible empathy towards parents and putting yourself in their shoes, like what was that actually like for you to realize, actually, this is what I feel pulled to do.
Beth Liesenfeld 09:01
Yeah, so occupational therapists, if you look from a big lens, what we do is we look at a person and we look at the barriers between what they want and need to do. And what’s not allowing them to get there most often. That’s a disability, right? That’s how we get paid is through insurance or through the school setting, that kind of thing. But I started to shift my perspective when I was in all these IEP meetings and saying, if the parent was my client right now, what is the barrier to them being able to advocate for their kid? And so you know, some people will call me an IEP coach, that’s fine, but I just feel like I’m being an OT. And so that empathy comes naturally with this occupational therapy role. I just switched who I was feeling like I was serving in the moment if that makes sense.
Debbie Reber 09:48
Yeah, that’s great. Can you explain maybe in more depth, why these meetings are so stressful for parents? I mean, I went to a few when my child was in early elementary and then I homeschooled for many And then my next one was like seven years later. And it was still really stressful for completely different reasons. When you mentioned that the way that the meeting ends has so much to do with what’s happened inside and how the parents showed up. So can you highlight some of the key stress points or things that you notice parents are really struggling with when it comes to these meetings?
Beth Liesenfeld 10:23
For sure, I think we can’t have this conversation without mentioning that the system is totally broken. And I think we can all agree, educators can agree with that. Everybody can agree that we haven’t changed the system since our society has changed in a long, long time. And I don’t feel like any politician is just going to be able to clean the slate and rebuild the system, I think we’re kind of stuck at the moment with how it is. But when I look at the system in general, and how it works, I think educators naturally go into this education, feeling empathy, being curious about their students wanting to see those aha moments, I think we have a lot of burned out teachers right now. So that might not be what you’re seeing when you come to the meeting. But innately, I think everybody’s drawn to this education setting because they love kids. And they really want to see those aha moments and really help people and make an impact. What happened though, is legislatively, we now have the IDE, a law, which in my opinion is great, it’s a great patch, to fix the system. And when I see IEP is going really well. And having a lot of collaboration between the School team and the parent, I do think it works well. And those are the meetings that we feel so excited about when we’re done because it actually worked. But what happens when it doesn’t work, and the collaboration isn’t there is that now this legal piece, which is kind of cold, and not based on relationships, like education and neatly is, that’s like an oil and water situation. And so instead of making a patch on a broken system, and like fixing it and making it really child centered, and really relationship based, it instead makes it cold. And that’s why so many meetings feel like it’s us against the school. And there’s that divide there. And then also, there’s just a really big difference in education, and knowledge between what the school is legally supposed to do, and what the school is doing. And there’s a lot of like the secrets that you like, for example, I remember a lot of times one of probably one of the first things that I wanted to pull people aside about was when we are going through the evaluation process, parents would be like, Okay, well, are they going to qualify like going into this meeting in a week? Can I get a little bit of a hint on if they’re going to qualify or not? And they would get shut down all the time? Well, that’s because schools have gotten in trouble for quote, unquote, pre determining if a child qualifies or not before that meeting? Well, that’s all you have to say to the parent is like, we can’t really tell you, but we’re gonna go over it in the meeting. But so many times, they’ll just be like, I can’t tell you that without giving a reason behind it. And so there’s this neat, like conflict, because one side obviously has more information than the parents do. And I feel like that’s unfair.
Debbie Reber 13:27
Yes. And I think it’s almost like a different language. Like, literally, in my Tilt Together Facebook group, there are often lengthy discussions about the IEP process. And for me, like my eyes glaze over, because it feels like a different language, it feels overwhelming, and my brain really does shut down. And so I think that instantly puts many parents like me at a deficit, the minute that we walk in the door, and we can feel really afraid or weak in those meetings, and then we judge ourselves, we need to be an expert. We need to know all the things but how can parents actually show up to those meetings? What do they actually need to know before they go to an IEP meeting?
Beth Liesenfeld 14:09
A lot of parents are just intimidated by the whole process, right? I think the keys here are that so much stress is put on the IEP meeting itself. And there are so many things that you can do in between IEP meetings that I think parents don’t realize they have a lot of power and influence in that time in between those meetings. And it also decreases that stress of I’ve got to get it right, right. I have one hour to talk about my kid for the entire year. Like no, no, that’s, that’s not it at all. But the parents that I’ve seen be successful take those opportunities to build relationships with every single person on their team. And it doesn’t have to be intense. You can just send an email twice a year to an occupational therapist like me, I would be like, Oh my gosh, I got a parent email, because I never heard from parents. You know, so you stand out, when you just reach out and make a relationship with somebody, you might not jive with a case manager or the person who’s managing your IEP as a whole. But if you make a connection with the speech therapist or the OT or somebody else who is supporting your kid, that can do a ton for you on the inside as well. The other thing is that you don’t have to know it. All right, you have to know enough so that you feel confident going into that meeting to ask really good questions. I remember one of the preschool meetings that I was in. This was a child who had been in preschool for two years, she was transferring to a charter school, which didn’t have really intensive services, but they did have special education services. And that parent, because she had a good relationship with the rest of the team, interrupted us probably five times in that meeting, saying, I don’t know what that acronym is. Can you explain that more to me? She was really concerned about that transition to kindergarten, what was provided there, what questions she could ask. But because she had that relationship, she felt like she could interrupt us and we weren’t offended. We were like, oh, yeah, you’re right. Like, you probably don’t know that term. Like, let’s back up. And for the rest of the meeting, we were checking in with her saying, Does that make sense? Like, are you with us? Do you have any other questions? And so she set the tone for that meeting, in having us slow down, explain things, really address her concerns. And that’s what made the difference. She didn’t know everything about the system, but she had confidence to be able to ask those questions. So knowing a little bit about how things work or are supposed to work, then all of a sudden, you know, if something feels wrong, you know what questions to ask to really dig into that and say, like, is this right? Or Is this not what they’re supposed to do? And then you can seek out more information from there.
Debbie Reber 16:53
Yeah, it seems like a lot of this then is also just the mindset that we go into the meeting with, I’m thinking of like the watercooler conversation is that IEP meetings suck, and they’re painful, and be prepared to cry. And we are almost in our own fight or flight mode, and we’re ready to fight. And that doesn’t always bring out the best results if we’re trying to be in alignment and work collaboratively with people. And as you were talking, I do recall when my child was in second grade, the SLP, at the public school, just loved Asher and was such an advocate and a supporter for the entire year. So I appreciate that reminder of those relationships being really important. Back then we were trying to decide whether we had gone through to private schools, and then we were in a public school. And then we were trying to decide what’s next. A friend said, Well, you’ve got a pretty decent IEP. And so there was a part of me that was afraid to make another choice. But I’m like, well, we’ve got a decent IEP. I didn’t even know what that meant. What is a good IEP? How would you define an IEP? That is decent, good or even great?
Beth Liesenfeld 18:01
Yeah. Oh, I love this question. I love this question. Because I really love the paperwork, which is just kind of a weird thing to say. But I really, really do like paperwork. Because when it’s aligned correctly, like you said, it’s, it’s magic, right? So the basis to the IEP being effective or not, is to make sure that you have a really comprehensive evaluation at the start of this process. And if you already have an IEP every three years as your trial review, that’s set out by federal law, you have to have another evaluation every three years, sometimes it’s more frequently, but depending on the situation and what’s happening. But what happens is through that process, you can fix some of the things that might be missing. And so I have a whole, I have a whole series on my podcast about eligibility. Because when parents have their own list of challenges that their child is having in the school setting. And if you have that before you even look at anything that the school gives you, you have that from your own brain, then when you go through the evaluation process, you can make sure that in that evaluation report, all of your concerns or the challenges you feel like they’re having are reflected in that report. If they’re not reflected in that report, they’re probably not going to be a goal, they’re probably not going to be accommodated, they’re probably not going to get services for it. So as you prep, right, we’re talking about how stressful the IEP meeting is, this is something that you can do right now, even if you don’t have an IEP or an evaluation coming up. You can just have that list of emotional regulation is really hard for them. They probably need support for that. Okay, we also need math addressed right, those big kind of areas that you’re concerned about, make sure that you have a running list of those. Once the evaluation report is done, and eligibility is determined or not done Then, more often than not, that evaluation report summary is copied and pasted into the present levels of the IEP. So you can see how important it is. Because if there’s something missing from the evaluation, then it’s not going to get into the present levels of the IEP. And that’s really what I call the start at the top of the IEP data funnel. Because if it’s not in the top, meaning the president levels, it’s probably not going to trickle down to become a goal or an accommodation later. So if you can kind of stay one step ahead of this process and say, Hey, you guys are missing this big emotional regulation piece, or even if your child is being qualified under specific learning disability, but you also suspect that they have anxiety and they’re having some behaviors around anxiety, that anxiety needs to be in there, right? Even if they’re like, Oh, it doesn’t relate to the specific learning disability, it doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be comprehensive. And so in that way, then you can look at the IEP and say, okay, is every need or challenge in that present levels being supported somewhere in the IEP down the line? This is a really big concern that parents were seeing a lot of behaviors, how is that supported when you go down the IEP. And so when you get to the end of the IEP, you should say, okay, like every challenge has been addressed in some way. Not every challenge is going to be a goal. Not every challenge may be accommodated, but at least it’s addressed somewhere, and you feel like it’s a good wraparound support for your kid. Also, anybody who picks up that IEP should be able to know who your kid is. And so many times I see strengths missing, or just a little list of strengths, like, Oh, they’re really kind, they want to do the right thing. They like Legos, okay, like, there’s a lot more strings that we can put in there. And parents can also give a lot of input to me. And they are really curious. They really like problem solving things. They’re really hands-on learners, all of those things can be used as leverage for their goals later in that IEP. And so making sure that especially with staffing shortages, and with people, you know, changing positions, as a new OT coming in and taking over 45 new IEPs, make sure that your IEP actually sounds like your kid at the end, and they should be asking you that like, Does this sound like Asher? And you should be able to say, Yeah, that sounds like my kid. Okay, cool, then that’s what makes a good IEP.
Debbie Reber 22:28
That’s such great insight and something I hadn’t thought about and makes so much sense. Of course, we want our kids’ strengths to be seen and understood and respected and, and be woven into anything that is happening to support them. So talking about goals, I understand that goals have to be measurable. But I would read those goals. And I’m like, how are you going to do that? And what does this actually look like? And is that goal actually meaningful in the context of who this kid is? So could you just talk a little bit more about the goal piece? And maybe why that is such an important component of an IEP? And does it actually work?
Beth Liesenfeld 23:07
I think you picked out the most important section of the IEP because without the goals, like what are we doing, right? There is an acronym to help people write goals. And that’s the smart format. And I don’t think we want to delve into that right now. But you can email me or contact me if you want, or just Google it, it’s everywhere, it’s really important for parents to have a vision statement for their kid, and to have some priorities. And these are like two or three things that you think are most important for them to build skill wise moving forward. Every goal should include one skill that they’re building, and be able to measure that skill. And this becomes really hard for a lot of people because let’s take like speech and language goals. Speech and Language Therapists are so articulate, and they cover so much. And they have so much jargon within the speech and language community as well. Like the way that they even write sounds into their goals. And like, I don’t know what sound that is they make like a slash s slash and I’m like, I don’t even know what that is. Right. So a parent wouldn’t know either to make sure that everything is understandable to you. But why I relate that back to the vision statement is that you really should be able to articulate what your priorities are, and have that meaningful peace, right. And then also, you should be able to understand that goal, not only so you can replicate it at home, but for the same argument that we just talked about where it’s if your special education teacher leaves in the middle of the year, somebody else can pick that up and know what they’re working on. Right? You also if you feel like you have some ambiguous goals, every about nine weeks, you’ll get a progress report. And if the progress report doesn’t make any sense, you’re like, How did you measure through this or are you able to measure this? That is a perfect time to go back and revisit and say, Hey, I remember we talked about this in the IEP. But I cannot remember what this actually looks like. Can you clarify that for me? And they should be able to tell you. But yes, I think goals is a really big pain point. Because I think that schools feel like they should be writing the goals, which they should. But then I’ve had parents come and say, Oh, the school is asking for me to write the goals and put them in the IEP, which is inappropriate, but also a really good opportunity for you to write a good goal. But mostly inappropriate, right? So yes, it should be measurable. It should be leading towards your vision statement that you have for your child. So it’s meaningful, and it should be measuring one skill that they are building. Hopefully that answers your question.
Debbie Reber 25:50
Yeah. No, it does. It does. But it leads me to my next question, which is, I hear and have experienced, and I hear from so many parents of schools not actually following through on the accommodations that are outlined clearly in an IEP. So I’m wondering how common is that? And if that is happening, what do we do? What do parents do?
Beth Liesenfeld 26:17
First of all, it’s incredibly common. And even from the inside, I watched it happen, you know, a teacher was on maternity leave, or about to leave on maternity leave actually was the situation. And she just stopped providing accommodations for this one student, which is totally not okay. This is why I think it’s so important to have a good relationship with at least somebody on your child’s IEP team. And this is why accommodations work best, when you have the approach of a trial and error process. The amount of accommodations are limitless, you can ask for anything, as long as the IEP shows the need to accommodate that in the IEP, right in the classroom. And so that’s what makes IEP so wonderful is your options are limitless. But it also makes it really hard. Because you’re like, What do I ask for, I don’t even know how you would accommodate this, right? It works better if your general education teachers who are most often implementing these accommodations come up with those accommodations. What you can do as a parent is instead of researching, like, I know that there’s a database online of like, hundreds and hundreds of accommodations, before you go and look for accommodations, what you really want to do is go back to that list of challenges that you think your child is having, and really get specific. And let me give you an example. A lot of times as an OTA, I see this all the time in Facebook groups, I see a parent saying what accommodations do you ask for, for writing? And so I have to ask a lot more questions to figure out what accommodations would be appropriate. There’s two different skills? Well, there’s actually a lot of skills, but there’s two main differences or segments inside of that writing task. One of those is the cognitive piece of writing. Can they understand what they want to write? Can they organize what they want to write? Can they remember what they want to write? Do they know how to spell that? Right? And then there’s the physical part of writing, can they not form the letters correctly? Do they have to put so much effort into forming the letter that they can’t remember what they were going to write? There’s so many things that when we break down those tasks, we’re going to accommodate that differently, right? If they’re struggling with coming up with sentences, okay, that’s going to be accommodated by maybe we do a graphic organizer where they’re writing the web, and they’re saying, Okay, this is my topic sentence. These are some ideas that I have around those, and they’re kind of creating sentences, so that they have that visual reference. And then if it’s a physical writing, maybe we’re accommodating that by teaching them typing instead, maybe we’re using voice to text, maybe we’re doing a scribe for a short amount of time, hopefully, because we want to kind of go away from that scribe. But there’s different ways to accommodate that. What happens is when we aren’t specific enough, or if we’re too demanding with those accommodations, and not looking at it as well, most of these might work, some of them might, we might have to revisit this in six weeks and throw out the ones that aren’t working and then keep the ones that are, is that general education teachers don’t understand why they need to do that accommodation. And they also don’t understand the problem that they’re accommodating. Remember that general education teachers don’t have a lot of education and special education at all. They’re pretty much on the same level as parents a lot of times where they’re just as intimidated by the IEP process, as parents are because they have no education, but yet their support has to do with accommodation. So making a really good connection with that general education teacher and being like, hey, which ones of these are working? Is this easy to implement for you? Or is this really hard? Or, Hey, I would love to go through this with you and just see which ones are working and which ones we need to throw out. Even that approach to say, Hey, I understand that this isn’t going to be perfect means so much, because I think so many general education teachers don’t want to get it wrong, they don’t want to be in trouble. They don’t want you to go to due process, because they’re not implementing things. So if you have that approach of that trial and error, is this working or is this not working? Let’s figure it out together, that makes a huge difference in getting those accommodations actually implemented. The last thing that I want to say about this is that, especially in middle school and high school, your accommodations might have to be different, depending on the teacher in the classroom. And so I’ve seen them in the IEP kind of broken down by science, social studies, math. And that’s because and you’ve probably seen this too, that some teachers get your kid and love your kid. And they already do some of the accommodations in their classroom just every single day for everybody. And then some of them are very rigid. And they don’t want to give your child an advantage, which is a ridiculous statement, but it happens all the time. And so you might have different accommodations that are in different classrooms, because there’s different task demands inside of each one of those classrooms. And that’s okay, too. But again, having that trial and error process and approach to these is really the best thing to get them implemented. Because sometimes, it’s too much for the general education teacher to do. There’s many ways to accommodate a different challenge. Well, there’s many different ways to approach a challenge that can fit with that classroom and that teacher as well. So it can be a process, it’s not an instant fix. But using this process, you can get a really good basis for what is actually helpful for your child and what just doesn’t work for them.
Debbie Reber 32:09
Yeah, what I love about what you’re sharing is, I wrote down the word living document plus collaboration. And I think we tend to think of this as this is the document. And just like our kids, many of whom are concrete, rigid thinkers, it’s like you’re either doing it or you’re not. And if you’re not, that’s a problem. And now we’re going to be upset about it. So I appreciate this reminder that this is a collaboration, this is something that we can explore, tweak, play with. And really just ask what’s working. And also that is really helpful to remember that teachers often don’t even understand the underlying reasons for why certain accommodations are happening or what the goal is, in that I love that you said limitless. I want my listeners to hear that the possibilities are limitless. So I think many of us feel that we don’t have a lot of wiggle room here. And I think there is so much more possible and flexibility than we realize.
Debbie Reber 33:11
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Debbie Reber 33:53
I did get to specific questions that come up a lot. And I just wanted to pose them to you. One of them is there’s a lot of school anxiety and refusal right now. I mean, that is just ubiquitous among neurodivergent kids at the moment, I think post COVID I don’t know if it post is the appropriate word, but just what we’ve been through in the past few years. And so parents are wondering, is it possible to build into an IEP and exemption for school attendance? Because I know that that typically is built in that you have to be at school a certain number of days in order for the IEP to be valid. Do you know about that?
Beth Liesenfeld 34:29
Yes. On accommodations, you can put in there absences. And this also applies a lot to children who are medically fragile as well. And so it can apply to the anxiety as well that they have a stipulation in there that says that, yes, they might be late, they might be tardy, you might still get those notices because they’re mandated and often times they’re automatic, that you know those tardy notices come out that kind of thing. But the other thing that I just want to mention is that it’s really difficult. It depends on your school team. But that really should be supported within the school as well. When we see school refusal, that’s usually because something is not being supported in the school environment. And the hard thing is convincing the school that they need to do something about it, because they will say, well, it’s not happening at school, so we have no control over it. Well, there’s probably something that’s going on inside the school walls, that’s causing that anxiety to happen right now, all the time. Sometimes it can just be a generalized anxiety kind of thing. But most of the time it can be supported. And one of the easiest things to ask for is just to have some person, it doesn’t have to be a specific person. But asking for a person to be your child’s person where if they’re feeling unsafe, if they’re having anxiety, that’s the person that they go to something like a check in check out process is an easy thing to ask for. But yes, to answer your question shortly, yes, it can be written into the IEP, you still might have to get those notices. But you should really have a good communication with your school team to say this is what’s happening. You also might have to have some sort of medical note or something from an outside provider that explains what’s happening. But most of the time, you can just ask for that to be put in the IEP and it should be. Okay.
Debbie Reber 36:24
Thank you. That’s really helpful. And just before I go to my other question, we have this IEP meeting, you talked about the trial and error and give and take in communication about stuff if we noticed something isn’t working, or we want to change it, how often can we do that? And what does that look like?
Beth Liesenfeld 36:40
So, you need to look at your procedural rights, your procedural safeguards parent rights for your state. So you can just Google that if you don’t have a copy. And that should outline what your rights are. Generally, you can always ask for an IEP meeting that’s supposed to be held within the next 30 days. But the cool thing is you also have this thing called an amendment, and that oftentimes, if you guys are in agreement, that, hey, we need to add this a combination and eliminate these three, or whatever you decide, you don’t actually have to meet to change that IEP, you can just write in the amendment, and then it’s changed in paperwork, they send it home to you to sign they sign it, and then it’s part of the IEP. So that’s a really quick way of just saying, hey, we want to change this real quick, that can also happen for goals, if your child has met goals already. Or if you’re like me, and there’s no way or we wrote this wrong, or something like that, they can always be amended that way as well. But if it’s something that you need to problem solve, you need everybody there to problem solve it through that look in your parent rights, but you have the right to request another IEP meeting even before it’s quote unquote, due.
Debbie Reber 37:45
Okay, that’s great. Thank you, I get a lot of questions about whether or not it’s possible to get IEP eligibility for kids who are twice exceptional, who have pretty profound asynchronous development. And so they may not technically be falling behind or be below average, but they have this incredibly high capability or they’re really struggling in other areas, but they’re still kind of quote unquote, performing. Okay. Is it possible to get accommodations for a child that would address that and I understand to get an IEP, you need to have one of these XYZ diagnoses. But say you have those diagnoses and the IEP is only addressing that disability as opposed to the other pieces.
Beth Liesenfeld 38:29
I think we can have a whole other episode on this specifically. But the simple answer is, yes, there’s an IEP and there’s a 504. The quick difference between them is that the IEP requires specialized instruction. And the 504 has accommodations, which just provide access to that student. Really, in one sentence, specialized instruction is the actual teaching. So if accommodations isn’t enough, or they don’t know how to use their accommodations, then they should really be getting an IEP to help them access their education. What it really comes down to, though, is yes, five oh, fours are relatively easy to access, you just need to find that the 504 coordinator really explain what’s going on and they should be able to problem solve accommodations for you. But really, the IDEA, the federal law is not isolated to just academics, it is about supporting the whole entire person. And so yes, you can have an IEP under the OHS label or other health impairment and sometimes that’s not academic related at all. Sometimes that’s about anxiety. Sometimes that’s about cerebral palsy, where there isn’t a cognitive involvement. That’s just a physical thing, you know. So it just depends on your situation. But yes, you should be able to go through the process and access whenever they need to access their education, it should fall under IDEA or 504. So there should be something that they qualify for to help them access their education.
Debbie Reber 40:04
That’s great. Awesome, thank you. So I just have to say you’re very knowledgeable about this stuff. And I’m super happy about that. I’m always happy when I find people who are experts and things that I really, really struggled to understand. So thank you for everything that you’ve shared today. And I would love it if you could take a minute to tell us where listeners can check out your work and the ways in which you work with families and parents.
Beth Liesenfeld 40:27
Absolutely. So probably the best way to really learn for me and discover what I’m all about is to hop on over to my podcast, which is the parent IEP lab. And you can find it on any podcast provider. And I want to specifically direct your listeners to Episode 41. Because I mentioned writing a vision statement. And that episode is how to write a vision statement. If you’re like, oh, I need more information about that. What is that all about? Go to Episode 41. That’s a super easy place to start to own your power as the parent and really set the tone for your next meeting. I also have my signature course, which is the ultimate parent IEP prep course, this is taking you through Yes, writing the vision statement more in depth and the podcast does. But also going through the system of determining your priorities, you might have a ton of things that you want addressed in the IEP, I take you through a framework so that you can narrow down those those skills that you want addressed, and really see the connection because a lot of times, working on one skill will help in a lot of different ways. And so narrowing down on that skill for the next year is really important. And then we make your parent input plan together, we talked about the process and being one step ahead, when to share that information kind of being prepared. So you can find out more resources on my website, which is the IEP lab.com. And I also have a freebie. So if you’re wondering what kind of parent input I should share, what time should I share that when I have an IEP coming up, you can find that freebie that outlines the 10 steps of coming into an annual review and when you’re supposed to share that parent input in the IEP. And you can find that at The IEP Lab.
Debbie Reber 42:11
That’s awesome. Listeners, I will have links to everything that Beth just shared with us all those links, the episode 41. All of it on the show notes page. But I just want to say thank you so much for coming on the show for sharing all of this with us. I think this is going to be a well- listened to episode because this is something so many families, again, are in the middle of trying to figure out and navigate and it is a mystery to many of us. So thank you for helping us have some clues, maybe even solve the mystery. And yeah, just for what you do in the world.
Beth Liesenfeld 42:46
You’re so welcome. And thank you so much for having me on. I so appreciate what you do as well and how you’re helping families and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be here. Thank you.
Debbie Reber 42:57
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