I have heard it so many times from high school resource teachers. After a parent complains about a staff member’s failure to provide an IEP accommodation (extended time, pull out testing, preferential seating), and an IEP meeting is called, the canned response is to blame the child: “Mary needs to learn to ask for help”. Your response: “When do you intend to start teaching her how?”
Yes, success skills for college actually need to be taught. And, students need time to practice them before they are thrown in after college has started. Of course, that is not the high school resource model, is it. Public high school is the “do-for-you” resource program, which often is the “don’t-do-for-you-and-blame-you-for-not-speaking-out” model. Standard accommodations for a high school RSP student include the same kinds of accommodations they will get in college: extended time, pull out room for testing, preferential seating, note-taking assistance, study guides, and assistive technology (maybe). The problem is that while these accommodations often appear on paper, they are illusive in practice. Or, if they have been provided, they are provided by the resource teacher telling the general education teacher who may be accommodating and may remember to implement something that is needed.
The problem is that in college, if the student doesn’t ask for the accommodation, it IS the student’s fault. So, we need to teach the child how to self-advocate and when.
That is easier said than done. Many even high functioning kids have no idea what their IEPs provide or what they “need”. They may go to “study skills” and be told to take out their agenda while an aide checks off that the homework was documented correctly. If it wasn’t, the aide fills in the agenda or watches as the child does what he should have done in class. Does that help teach the child what is needed? If there is a test, maybe the teacher directs the student to the testing room. Again, this is all prompted.
As with most areas of need in special education, the key to long term successful outcomes is “backward planning”. You need to know what the child will need to know at any certain point in time and prepare in advance to teach the child those skills. What does that look like for a college bound child? First, the child needs to learn that in college, he or she will need to advocate for their needs and accommodations to meet them. That means they need to learn how to do that. How many teenagers do you know who are both capable of and willing to say: “I have autism – which causes me to have anxiety so it would be helpful for me to have a quiet room and extra time to take my tests”. Do they know that is why they are getting extended time on tests in high school? Do they know they are getting extended time on tests?
So, to backward plan, the first steps are:
Learn about my disability
Learn about what my “needs” are and what “accommodations” are helpful for those needs
Practice asking for accommodations both in terms of an accommodation plan and to individual teachers (write scripts, role-play, video-tape)
Write an accommodation plan and include it as part of the IEP (Student directed)
Submit plan to each teacher and meet and discuss necessary accommodations
Review daily/weekly if necessary accommodations are in place
Practice “complaint process” for when teacher/case manager does NOT provide what is needed (write scripts, role play, video tape)
This is all very daunting to most teenagers. And, as you can see, if you wait until Spring of senior year, you have no time to practice. These steps are numerous and some will likely require inclusion of counseling staff to help a child to appreciate their positives and not only focus on what they may perceive as negatives. Consider the following timeline:
Freshman year: Goals should be written to teach the student about his or her disability and how it impacts the student. Specific tasks might include identifying 3 positive skills/attributes and 3 challenges and them “problem solve” for the challenges. If the student has never attended his or her IEP, this should occur as a freshman, with the student being told that by Junior year, he or she will be “running” the IEP. It is daunting but the most powerful way to actually get teachers to help kids is to force them into a room and make them listen TO THE STUDENT. I helped my son write an “opening statement” for his Junior Year IEP that he then took and used as the template to write his senior year statement. It went teacher by teacher and told them what they do that makes learning easier for him and where he is having challenges. So, one teacher used “guided notes”; another teacher uploaded her docu-cam homework problems to her website so my son could go back and check his math work more slowly than was done in class. Just pointing out how this helped him caused the chemistry teacher to “volunteer” that she had worked out all of the problems they go over in class and she could provide a completed work-set if it would help. Ya think? So, let each teacher teach the other teachers all about what really are just good teaching strategies. One teacher used a red marker on the white board which literally screamed at you. The board was messy and for a student with OCD it was very challenging. Instead of saying “your board screams at me”, my son commended another teacher’s white board strategies which he described as “your white board is SO organized it really helps me to follow and organizational skills are something I am working on. I like how you put the homework assigned in the upper corner and then put a box around it and that is the ONLY thing in BLUE on the board and if there is a test, you put that in RED for emphasis but no other red is used, which really makes me anxious.” He then turned to the “writes-in-red” teacher and said “Sorry, but yes, your whiteboard is very challenging for me”. He then turned back to teacher one and said, “I really appreciate that when you do write on the board during lectures, you do not write and talk at the same time as I look at your face when you talk as I am hearing impaired”. Again, there was another teacher who always did it wrong despite there being an accommodation on the IEP that said “Face students when lecturing”.
So, yes, the student in freshman year needs to come and listen and get a feel for the IEP documents, where accommodations are documented (supplementary aides and supports), and what the IEP process is like.
Freshman year is also critical to getting AT evaluated and in place. If your school is not a “BYOD” school (bring your own device) or otherwise inhibits technology, this is a challenge as many kids do not want to stick out. But, they need to learn what technology is there, and be taught how to use it. There are three types of technology that any college bound student should consider:
Digital books and e-readers
Time management training
If your child has a print disability (e.g. reading disability), or challenges with reading comprehension (whether based on a print disability or not), audio books are amazing. The amount of reading in college is enormous depending on the degree program. If you have digital books and an e-reader, you can listen and read at the same time. The books are stored in the cloud and you download them to your computer to read. Many e-readers have highlighter functions which are great for kids with ADHD (you can program the speed that the book is read out loud, whether the words are individually highlighted as read or sentence by sentence (or both). This helps focus, and uses multisensory learning to advance comprehension. Digital books require planning. In college, you need to get the syllabus in advance, then buy the book. You then send the receipt to DSS and they obtain the digital book if it is not otherwise available. If your child is eligible with a print disability, a free account IN HIS NAME can be obtained for BOOKSHARE (www.bookshare.org). You want the account in your child’s name – not the school – as it will then go with him/her to college and beyond. If your child is bookshare eligible, free software is available through their website. You can download novels and textbooks.
So, in the new age of common core, what about those “big idea” classes where they don’t use textbooks? If they have handouts, the school can be required to make it accessible for you. There are programs that can read PDFs. Ereaders use OCR software and digitized voices so this is not for everyone. It takes getting used to. There are still some books available through “Recording for the Blind and Dyslexics) (now known as Learning Ally). And some novels are narrated by actors and available in public libraries or through audible (for a fee). But students have to be taught how to use the technology. I can’t tell you how many kids have audio books on their IEPs and no one has ever uploaded a text for them or taught them how to use it. This needs to be taught and there should be a goal for this (by annual review, Student will download a text from the cloud, open it in his e-reader software, and demonstrate the ability to read with the use of technology on 4/5 trials as measured by teacher collected data.
Notetaking assistance is done both with notetakers and with apps. Notability is a great app as it tapes lectures and allows a student to type notes that are then synchronized with the audio file. There are Livescribe pens that do the same thing for kids who do not type but the paper for that is pricey. The app is much more economical and in college, most kids use laptops so teaching a child to type in middle school is an important skill (look at Sunburst Type,
Finally, time management apps are available. I personally like the calendar app on the iPhone but there are much more colorful and student centered apps as well like iSTudiezPRO Student planner app which has color coding for each class. Again, the student needs to be taught how to input, how to “chunk” big assignments, put in alerts, etc. Depending on need, organizational skills goals should be looked at beginning in freshman year and practiced throughout high school until the student is independent.
Sophomore year: Consider goals for the student to draft his own accommodation plan. That will require him to know what an accommodation plan looks like. High schools do not use accommodation plans, do they. They have an IEP with an accommodation page that as far as I know, no one reads. So, if you have a goal that “By annual review, Student will draft an individualized accommodation plan, and role play a meeting where he will ask for an accommodation plan as measured by student completed accommodation plan and videotaped practice accommodation meeting”. He will also need a goal to script and practice giving a completed accommodation plan to a teacher.
Here is an exemplar form:
Resource Support Services
Authorized Academic Accommodations – General Education
To: _________________________ Student: ___________________________
This student has enrolled in your class and has a verified disability that makes him/her eligible for reasonable accommodations as defined either by his IEP or a 504 Plan. THIS INFORMATION IS CONFIDENTIAL. The policy of ________ High School is to make educational accessible to all students in accordance with State and Federal Regulations.
Please review each accommodation with the student and ask him/her how you can help him to access your classroom or curriculum in light of his needs. Please initial in the left column below after you have discussed each accommodation with your student.
Teacher Initials Accommodation Comments
Teacher Initials Accommodation Comments
To the instructor: Please sign, date and return one copy to student. Retain the second copy for your confidential files. Signature indicates receipt of accommodation request for student.
This form replicates many that community colleges and 4 year universities use. The student goes to the Disability Support Services (DSS) office, brings their last evaluation and IEP, requests necessary accommodations, and gets a form. It is then up to the student to submit it to the professor. So, you can see that it is not enough to just get the form, you have to know how to ask for what you need. Having the student create one for themselves as a template is very helpful to the later role-play session where they are practicing a script (that they also write) to talk to the DSS manager.
Why is there a column for “comments”? What “comments” might be included? In my experience, if you simply put an accommodation, and then hand a form to a teacher/professor, it is very likely that some accommodations will be missed. If you include the “why”, and then explain to the professor the basis of the accommodation, and it is reasonable, it is more likely that they will comply. Consider the preferential seating accommodation. Is the preference needed to sit in front because of a visual issue? To sit close to where the professor is teaching because of hearing issues – so if the professor teaches from the back, the student might need to be near the back. If this a student with Crohn’s who needs easy access to the door to get out to use the restroom? If you don’t put the “why” and explain the type of preference, you may lose out. Yes, there is no obligation to “out” yourself with a professor and the professor cannot ask if you do not disclose but if you need an accommodation, consider that you may need to self-disclose as well.
So, an accommodation to “face students when lecturing” takes on new meaning if it says as the comment “Student uses visual cues to support auditory comprehension due to a hearing impairment”. Which one is most likely to get the teacher to do what any good teacher should do – don’t talk and write on the board at the same time. Similarly, how about “provide syllabus and textbook list in advance”? If you ask the professor for this, will they be more likely to respond if they know “Student uses e-reader and digital texts and needs to order them in advance”. Extended time for assignments? What does that look like in college? “Student needs syllabus in advance – reads ahead in summer and winter break to obtain extended time for reading”. So, consider being very clear about WHY your student needs WHAT accommodation. Sometimes, it is helpful to also put the HOW in if you know that a high school teacher is unlikely to help. “Notetaking assistance” is meaningless to many general education teachers but if you state “Request notes from another student and deliver to RSP teacher for copying who will privately provide them to student”. We created a “ruse” that followed my son’s notetaker for 4 years. I asked his Honors World History teacher if there was a student in his class that was fastidious about taking notes, and an excellent student. We all knew there was – she ended up being the Salututorian. She’d been the “smart kid” from elementary school but also a true community minded young lady. I said, “If you went up to her and said: “You know, there are times I get off track with my lecture and forget what I covered – could I get your notes on Friday, copy them and return them to your third period class – it would be a big help?” I asked – “Any doubt she would say yes?” Then continue with: “If there is any student who was sick or out for a school sponsored game, do you mind if I give them a copy as well?” She, of course, agreed. The next year, the AP teacher went to her and said, “I heard from Mr. ___ that he copied your notes on Friday – Can I do that as well?” It was no coincidence that my son and this young lady had the same schedule for the classes he needed notetaking assistance and she had no idea she was his notetaker for years.
FYI – in college, they solicit notetakers through DSS – it’s a paid job. The notetaker submits the typed notes to DSS and they get forwarded to the student seamlessly. But, in high school, you have to find the student or the school has to provide an aide in the class to take notes.
IEP attendance is mandatory in Sophomore year. My son did not say much until Junior year but he was there. He did contribute to the drafting of his ITP at that meeting and answered directed questions. He introduced the meeting and thanked everyone for coming but most of his participation was “prompted”.
Junior year starts early – in June of sophomore year. If there is an accommodation to get books in advance, the student must check those out. They are handed out the first week of school. So, the counselor should try to figure out, to the extent possible, who the student’s teachers will be. In high school, there may be some new hires but there may be some senior, returning folks. So, for US History, or Junior English, you really want to try to get a returning teacher so your student can role play and then go and meet that teacher. The student would be getting ONE thing – BOOKS. We generally have the student write a script which starts with an email – that is sent to the target teacher. It would explain that “I have a reading disability and read ahead in the summer to get extended time for reading. I need to check out a junior ____ book. Could I come by after school (or during lunch) on _____?” When the student then goes to meet the teacher, the case manager is with him standing behind him for positive reinforcement but the student has practiced and this is step one. So, they get their book and the final statement is “I will stop by the day before school starts to meet with you to discuss my in-class accommodations”.
Yep, in junior year, the student delivers his or her own accommodation plan. So, the annual goal will be for the student to advocate for his own accommodations by doing each of the following: a) writing a script to review student’s accommodation plan with each teacher 2) role playing with video tape review a practice meeting with a teacher to review the accommodations plan 3) meeting with each teacher, discussing his/her accommodation plan, and obtaining the teacher’s signature on it and 4) returning a copy to his case manager. The accommodations plan will only have accommodations from the IEP but they were transferred to a set plan that the student can use to learn how to self-advocate. The student goes in the day before school. I went with my son as the resource teacher was not reliable. I stood in the back and said nothing and just watched but he knew he could ask for help (e.g. phone a friend?) if he got stuck. He had a script. He had practiced at the end of sophomore year with the SLP as per the goal to role play asking for accommodations. Now he is going with support and he presents the plan and the teacher has to read it with him. The script is the introduction: “I am a student with a disability and an IEP. I have accommodations. It is important for me to learn to self-advocate for my own accommodations because I will have to do that in college so I am here practicing with you. I hope you will help. I would like to review my accommodations with you.” The form does the rest. The teacher signs that he has read them and reviewed them with the student and keeps a copy. The student takes a second copy back to the case manager.
Also in junior year, consider a goal to generalize the goals from sophomore year and to go to DSS at a community college and to register spring semester for accommodations. I strongly suggest that all college bound students take a community college class so that they can practice everything in a less risky environment – e.g. where there is a parent to help. They will go to DSS, read the script, get a college 504 plan, take the placement test (which requires accommodations which is why you need to get the plan first) and then register for a class. Even if it is a class in “disability support services” – which teaches kids about supports available on campus, it is a valuable experience. My son took a bunch of gen ed classes at community college where they were cheap, easier, and so when he went to the 4 year college, he didn’t have to take English 101, or a social science class at 8:00 a.m. He came in with sophomore standing with credits through AP and community college) which allowed him to enroll in 200 level classes which are MUCH more interesting. He graduated in 3 years which saved a lot of money.
In junior year, the student reads the opening statement at the IEP meeting and has an outline of the meeting and introduces each area (review of past goals/progress – this is where HE starts, proposed new goals, services, etc). I helped my son write it in Junior year and when he saw how successful it was, he was able by senior year to have more ownership in it. He read his statement and this resulted in a collaborative discussion between teachers and my son. It was open and honest and amazing. We were lucky to have all teachers present – I requested it and I think they were afraid of me enough that they came and thereafter, word got around that my son was in charge and it was amazing and senior year it was easy to get staff present. When they tell you that they only have to have one teacher present, that is true but that does NOT stop you from asking. I wrote an email to each teacher and requested that they attend, told them that we were teaching Joe to self-advocate and we really needed their help, that Joe would talk to them directly and that as soon as we went through present levels, I would stipulate to their excusal. They all came! They all stayed for the entire meeting even though I agreed to excuse them. They were actually interested because they were contributing and involved – unlike any other meeting they ever went to when they showed up, delivered their printed grade report and said “Johnny is getting a B and doing well”.
At the junior year IEP, it is important to consider goals for all areas for social thinking and social inclusion. We also look at social issues because, after all, a quirky student with special needs going to college will fail if he or she has no social outlet. So, consider goals to join a club, participate, sit with someone you don’t know for lunch (think what the college cafeteria looks like – you may or may not have someone to go to lunch with depending on your schedule and you do not want your child eating alone). For my son, we had him start a study group. It did not work but this was what we tried. Teachers were asked to announce study groups would be available after school in the library two days a week to prep for the AP test. We put up desk easels that said “AP History study group”. My son was there. No one else came but we tried. He ultimately started his own club because he was better “in charge” then sitting and trying to be involved in something else. And, the reality is that most school clubs do nothing. So, he started a club, got three others to be in leadership with him (which was needed to start a club) and then gave out cookies at club sign-ups to rope others in. He offered free food which brought kids in. Did he get social connections through this club? Yes and no – not like you would hope but he learned how to try which was the goal. He was more successful at college in joining organizations where there was a service mission because they did things (like peer education, best buddies, etc) and he started a club there as well (College Democrats) so he had the skills to lead already practiced with the high school club. Social skills is challenging for many kids with disabilities so practice is important.
Senior year is much the same as junior year but less prompting. The student gets his books at the end of junior year, meets all teachers the day before school and reviews his accommodations (staff did NOT go with him nor did I – he reported back to case manager – and me – how successful he was), he signed up for college classes at community college, advocated for his accommodations there (with some prompting but after role playing with the High School SLP and using scripts he wrote with her). He continued to work on the social piece and even had a workability job as part of his transition plan (in the summer before senior year).
Did this “program” result in him getting all his accommodations? Heck no! There were regular failures and he would say nothing. Just as you would expect. A teacher forgot to tell him he could use his computer for in class notes and he was afraid to take his computer out because he did not have “permission”. The IEP clearly stated that teacher was to announce that “I’m going to be doing a lecture today so if you have a computer, you can use it”. There were numerous failures and he never once spoke up because he didn’t have that ability. But, he would come home, tell me and I would email the teacher. It was easier in college – to be frank – as there is a system in place for most everything you need and so you aren’t always trying to make someone actually do their job, which is how it feels in high school. But, at least my son was telling ME and not just letting it pass.
So, an IEP without direct instruction on these self-help goals, including any executive function goals that the student needs to work on (e.g. documenting agenda, chunking of long term assignments) is not going to get the job done. To the extent you can wrap the goals up in speech goals, I have found that SLPs are more helpful. Coping skills for anxiety are suitable for counseling goals. But, some of the goals need to be taught by the RSP teacher which requires either a study skills class or push in daily or weekly support. If that is not “their model”, then ask them how they intend on teaching your child. They cannot force him or her to take study skills if they want to take a full class load including electives such as foreign language, engineering, or VAPA classes.
Finally, consider this. Are you really sending your child to college without any check in? Of course you are going to speak to him or her every day and ask “Did you contact your professors?” My son had a scheduled check in with the DSS coordinator twice a month his first semester and the counseling department twice a month. We made sure there was plenty of people with “eyes on” and that he had plenty of support. But, he had been set up for success with a dedicated program that did not exist at his high school and was created individually for him. You would think they would have run with it for others, thereafter right? Yea, right…
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