How the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Affects Our Kids

Sacramento Region, CA   |  Commentary by Andrea Hatch     
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“I am a dancer, a singer, and a person who is good at math. I am understanding, thoughtful, and try my hardest to make friends and sometimes I succeed. I am a son, a grandson, and a great grandson and am sooo much more than a kid in a special ed class.” – Andre

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - The Individualized Education Program was established for kids who have behavioral and learning abilities that are different than the “average” child. Some kids receive an IEP and remain in a general education classroom with special focus on what they need most to succeed. Other children are placed in completely separate classrooms staffed with several teachers and varying levels of behavioral and learning difficulties. My son, Andre, was put into an IEP class by second grade. He was kicked out of several schools, saw several therapists, and a call or email was received almost daily regarding a behavioral outburst. The request was made several times for a shadow but I was advised that, unless he had a specific diagnosis, it would not be possible. The only problem was he had not, and has not been, diagnosed with anything specific. Behaviors at home are the polar opposite of how his behavior is at school. One of our greatest fears, when moving Andre to the IEP program, was that his academics would slip and his behavior would worsen. We were assured that would not happen; however, we are now in the fifth grade and our fears have come true. It is called an Individualized Education Program; however, each time we made suggestions that would help we were told they don’t have the ability to give individual attention to each student.

We have pushed for Andre to be reintegrated to the general education and have been told that cannot happen until his behavior improves. How do we know his behavior in a new setting unless we try? When surrounded by kids, with even greater behavioral issues, how can we expect behavior to actually improve? Many IEP kids are in sports, activities, and have hobbies where they interact in a positive manor with others. When doing these other activities, outside of their special education program, they are able to interact like a “normal” kid because they are in an environment with other “normal” kids. If we, even as adults, are placed in an environment where aggression is present then we will likely become aggressive, seeing as how it’s in our nature to protect ourselves.

There are benefits of this program and there are drawbacks. Being in IEP protects the children from expulsion, or arrest, depending on behavior and it allows the children to remain on a school campus, even though they struggle. The downfall is that there is such a severe gap in the behaviors and thoughts of these children that there is no way it is an Individualized plan. If you have a child who is academically challenged mixed with a child who is behaviorally challenged where do you focus? Both children are now being academically neglected. The child who is academically strong is being neglected due to behavioral challenges and the child who struggles academically will continue to do so since the focus is only on a behavior, or behaviors, of other classmates. It’s a vicious circle that needs rectification.

The IEP children are removed from what is viewed as the “normal” classroom, yet are expected not to see themselves differently and the “normal” students are not supposed to view the IEP students differently. The IEP children get teased and picked on, yet are expected to see themselves as being like the other children. Other parent’s look at our children with disgust for their struggles with what seems like simple tasks to other. I personally heard one mother, not realizing I was my son’s mother, talking so badly about my child and telling her child to stay away from my son. What is being missed is that my son is a 10 year old boy. Just like several others, my son is loving, generous, funny, caring, and kind hearted. He just doesn’t know how to handle things when he gets upset. How will he ever learn unless the time is taken to teach him to do better? His academics should not suffer based on his struggle with behavior. We need to remember that these are children too and that all children are different. As adults we need to remind the “normal” children that we are not all the same. We need the Individualized Education Program to be better tailored for each student. We need to remember that it takes a village and if the village gives up, so do our youth. We cannot expect our children to know what they haven’t been taught. Next time you see an IEP kid on the campus of your child’s school smile, ask them how they are doing, and show your kids the importance of being kind so that it lives within them when they are not with you.