Meeting parents’ expectations for children with special needs can be challenging. While therapists and other clinicians are attuned to the requirements of students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), parental involvement – and understanding of therapeutic progress – varies. As a therapist, parents may approach you – or school administrators – with questions and anxieties. It’s important to be aware of common areas of concern, so you are equipped to respond with the right information, a healthy dose of compassion, and a patient, caring tone in both verbal and written communication.
Questions can stem from observations on progress – for better or worse. The role of parents is to ensure education and provide the best for their children. School-based therapists and clinicians should consider that any parental criticism – real or perceived – is probably coming from a good place – care for the child. Trying to see through the eyes of a concerned or confused (and occasionally, frantic) parent can help diffuse misunderstandings and mitigate against serious communication conflicts.
How is my child’s progress and how is it tracked?
Parents – seeing the potential in their special needs child with eyes of hope and anticipation – are interested in their progress. With this in mind, therapists and other clinicians should be prepared to answer progress-related questions with at least one example that speaks to the movement toward therapeutic goals.
Additionally, parents may ask how progress is being measured within the school system. Students learn in different ways and rates – a point of concern for many parents. Therapists should be prepared with assurance (backed by evidence) that therapy services rendered and goals yet-to-be-achieved match their child’s learning needs.
How are your methods treating my child’s disability?
Naturally, parents desire the best and most efficient therapeutic plan for their child. Therapists can safely assume parents may ask for details on how your treatment methods cater to the specific disability experienced by their child. The question could be as simple as “what does a speech therapist do?” or as complex as, “what did you accomplish in the last therapy session, and how will it help my child in the long term?”
Can I Have Copies Of The Service Logs?
Highly engaged parents will keep a watchful eye on their child’s progress. Occasionally, parents may request service logs. As a therapist, you can help parents reach a good level of comfort with both you and the curriculum designed to treat the specific disability. Remember to follow up with parents after you provide therapy-related documents, to facilitate mutual understanding and rapport.
What Can I Do At Home?
Concerned parents will always want to do whatever they can to accelerate therapeutic progress, so it’s important to be prepared to convey tangible ways in which they can help their child. For example, those in occupational therapist jobs may give parents exercises for their child to complete at home to help increase their motor skills. Speech and language therapists may recommend oral exercises or games to help alleviate a speech impediment. It is important that your suggestions do not overwork the student – or undermine any work that you have done at school.
How will this affect my child’s graduation?
One of the biggest concerns among parents will be how an IEP will affect their child’s graduation. In special education, students are often pulled out of the traditional classroom setting to provide more detailed instruction related to the disabilities they experience. Parents do have a legitimate reason to be concerned about whether their child will be able to complete the regular curriculum and requirements for on-time graduation.
Do I have to sign the IEP at the meeting?
Some parents are hesitant to sign off on the program because they want time to ensure that the IEP will, in fact, help their child. Clearly, the answer to this is “no.” An IEP is developed within three to five days, and parents are allotted 30 days from the final development date to sign off on the program.
How has the school updated PLOP?
A student’s present level of performance (PLOP) is the basis of an IEP lesson plan. In most school systems PLOPs are only updated every three years, and dictate goals, lesson plans, placements and services within an IEP. The ability to understand and convey how this process works to a parent of a student with an IEP will give the parent confidence that the treatment springs from a thorough process. If feasible, it is wise to personally update student performance levels. Records that are current will have a positive impact on both students’ treatment plans and the quality of communication among the therapist, parents and school administrators.
Can you explain that again?
It is important to remember that parents of a child with an IEP may not be well-versed (or versed at all) in the technical jargon in the world of special education. Parents may ask you to repeat or explain special education or therapeutic concepts multiple times. When providing feedback on therapy sessions and discussing progress, be sure to explain everything concisely, with language easily understood.
These are just a few of the many questions that you might face when meeting with the parent of a student with an IEP. There are many more questions parents may pursue. Although some questions may seem “common sense,” it’s important to educate parents who are not familiar with the special education system, and be prepared for questions. Remember, parents will scrutinize your methods only because they want the best for their children.
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