ST. GEORGE – On Tuesday evening the Southern Utah Autism Support Group along with the Utah Parent Center – a parent-to-parent training and information center based in Salt Lake City that helps parents of children with all disabilities and all severeties – hosted an informational meeting for parents of school-aged children with disabilities who are in need of an Individualized Education Program.
The Individualized Education Program, commonly referred to as an IEP, is a child’s written program that is developed, reviewed and revised in a team meeting. It is a mandatory program for all students who are in need of special education services. The team consists of parents, educators, administrators and professionals who are equipped to aid in the process.
With school back in session, the Southern Utah Autism Support Group held this educational meeting in order to give parents the right tools and know-how to be better advocates for their children and to understand their rights as parents as they work in tandem with their schools in a process that can oftentimes become overwhelming.
“The IEP can be a very intimidating process and parents can end up feeling very alone – and that is where defensiveness comes in, parents feel like they need to fight for their child” the group’s Vice President Hayley Winslow said, “this meeting gives them tools and voices to bring to the table when they have an IEP so that they approach it in the most reasonable manner and get the best outcome for their child.”
The seminar, “Parents as Partners in the IEP Process,” was led by Esperanza Reyes of the Utah Parent Center. Reyes is a Utah Parent Center parent consultant with a master’s degree in human development and social policy. She has a 6-year old son with autism spectrum disorder.
Reyes covered the process from initial referral all the way to implementation and gave parents worthwhile advice and knowledge to aid them in becoming better, more informed team members as they work with educators for their children with disabilities.
She outlined key advice for parents.
- Get educated – Schools pay attention when you know what you are doing, Reyes said.
- Get and keep data – “Data runs it,” Reyes said. Reyes advocates for keeping a file or binder with all of your child’s written records, especially their IEP.
- Be an equal partner in the education process – “I firmly believe that parents are the child’s biggest advocate,” Reyes said.
Michelle Nadalsky, a board certified behavior analyst, works with many parents of children with autism, she said, stating that parents tend to panic when the IEP process nears.
“Most parents don’t know what to ask for or what their options are,” Nadalsky said. “This meeting is great so that parents can have the knowledge to be able to say what is going to help their kids learn the best.”
In addition to the presentation, Reyes personally answered questions from those in attendance and provided handouts with resources and more detailed information to help keep the information readily available to parents.
“The IEP is one of parents’ biggest fears,” Tiffany Prince, who attended the meeting, said. “That is why it is so important to get a booklet with instructions and the information and laws, to be educated.”
Over 50 people – parents, foster parents, educators, behavioral specialists and members of the support group – were in attendance.
The Southern Utah Autism Support Group holds monthly educational meetings and is a growing network of support in the Southern Utah community.
The group is currently in the process of creating a new parent handbook for parents who are new to the journey of having a child on the autism spectrum or with related disorders and they are planning an autism walk for April 2015.
“We want to spread the word that we are here to support you,” support group President Bonnie Webb said.
- For more information on the Southern Utah Autism Support Group, visit their Facebook page
- For information about the Utah Parent Center visit here
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