The I.E.P. is the backbone your child's Special Education Program.Backbones and I.E.P.’s. Huh?

Does anybody remember the song from 1989 by Maestro Fresh West “Let Your Backbone Slide”? While the song doesn’t have anything to do with I.E.P.’s, since I started writing this post this it’s all I can hear in the back of my mind and it makes me want to dance!

Actually when I think about it, advocacy is really like a dance isn’t it?  It is a sequence of movements that either you do yourself or with a partner.  In the case of school advocacy, that dance is really about a partnership. I mean the school team needs you AND you and your child needs the school team. Viola! You have a dancing partner!

But let’s get to the point!  Why and how is the backbone related to your child’s individual education plan or program? Let’s consider first what we know about the human body.

Your backbone provides the frame and structure you need to perform daily tasks with ease.  Without a backbone we cannot stand up tall, bend to pick something up off the floor, sit, or complete many other movements and positions we naturally and instinctively perform daily.

Without your spinal cord there would not be a direct pathway to the brain. The backbone protects our spinal cord and nerves from damage. It is made up of vertebrae which are the moving parts that allow your spine to move.  These vertebrae are complex and composed of bone and cartilage.

Vertebrae have a very important function. They give strength and flexibility to the spinal column. Vertebrae change to accommodate the different movements we ask our bodies to perform.  Therefore without these vertebrae we simply would not be able to move around.

So what does this all mean in terms of your child’s IEP?

That’s simple! Your child’s I.E.P. is the backbone to your child’s special education program.  It is the starting point for discussion and the driving force of a student’s day to day expectations at school. It is a crucial document for students with special needs, one that we should always refer back to and reflect on to ensure a student is achieving success.

Now me break it down a little more for you.

Imagine the spinal cord represents a student’s overall success and well-being.

Your back bone protects your spine. For this comparison between the backbone and I.E.P.’s, we will assume that the spinal cord represents a student’s overall well being and success. If the spine is damaged or severed, abilities are lost and skills may not be acquired.  This has a direct impact on a student’s future.

Vertebrae are the moving parts and represents the entire special education team.

Like the backbone, the I.E.P. is also made up of moving parts. Each part is represented by a person who is part of the student’s special education team. This team should include students, parents, teachers, special educators, school support staff and administrators. These team members (the vertebrae), are the moving parts of your child’s special education program because they are flexible and add strength to the backbone. Like the vertebrae, these team members can change over time to accommodate the needs of each individual student.

What happens when one or several of your vertebrae are fractured or dislocated? 

Of course you’re are no longer able to stand tall or move around freely to accomplish your day to day routine. The same is true for the I.E.P.  If one team member does not have a connection, commitment and/or understanding of it’s purpose and the plan itself, the I.E.P. is not going to be effective in addressing your child’s unique needs at school.

BUT…

What does this all really mean?

This means that all team members need to be on board with an I.E.P. to set the stage for optimal student success. Without a good understanding of the I.E.P., the commitment and connection I referred to above does not occur, leaving student’s with broken vertebrae.  Their backbone (the I.E.P.) is then either injured or broken, which significantly reduces or prevents the student for reaching their maximum potential.

From my experience, this is more of a challenge than you would think.  Often parents don’t understand the I.E.P. or how they can contribute which limits their participation.  In addition I have heard from both parents and educators that teachers also don’t always fully understand the impact an I.E.P. has on a student’s ability to be successful at school. This lack of understanding may show in the way the I.E.P. is implemented and/or not followed though on.  This undoubtedly leads to conflict.

Whether you’re a parent or educator, I want you to consider this questions.  Am I sure I really understand my student’s individual education plan? Perhaps you do and if so you are on the right path.  But if you’re left wondering or saying things like “I think so”, “Maybe” or “I’m not sure”, then you need to find out as much as you can about I.E.P.’s.

Are you overwhelmed or confused about your child’s I.E.P.? Do you have questions that you are still wondering about? Are you ready to make sure the backbone doesn’t slide?

Hit me up with your questions in the comments below and download my free IEP Meeting Prep Guide.