Think inclusive… about the IEP process and IEP team from the child’s perspective. Tim Villegas does an excellent job here gathering parental and professional insights on educating students with disabilities. Today I hope to add a new comprehensive layer by discussing the student viewpoint. Disclaimer, rather than providing you with answers my post aims to raise questions and stimulate dialogue.

First though, perhaps I should make a proper introduction. I’m Zachary Fenell, an author and freelance writer who enjoys exploring different disability related issues. My interest in disabilities remains personal considering I was born with a mild case of cerebral palsy (CP). In my teen memoir Off Balanced (available on the Kindle and Nook) I share how my CP affected me socially as an adolescent.

Additionally I write articles for The Mobility Resource, an organization with handicap van dealers across the United States. Plus I serve as the Guest Blog Coordinator for Handicap This Productions, a critically acclaimed group attentive on educating, entertaining, and empowering the world on disability orientated topics. Also worth noting I contributed articles to Special Education Guide, an informational website dedicated to covering all things special education.

Anyways, now you know my credentials. Shall we get to the point? Reflect on how your son or daughter’s IEP team functions. When possible, does he or she contribute? Do the IEP team members respect the ideas and notions your child brings forward? More specifically, do you value your son or daughter’s input?  Answering this last question proves especially important, given in my personal experience the parent and child influence the IEP process the most.

You see, in my situation my parents set the tone for our yearly IEP team meetings. My mother entered the room focused, ready to address her concerns with regards to the next school year. The other team members listened and the appropriate conversations proceeded. The discussions rarely if ever induced surprise from me because my parents talked to me about their concerns prior to the meetings. Still I did not always feel Mom and Dad seriously contemplated my feedback.

Allow me to illustrate. In Off Balanced I document an argument I had with my parents when preparing to transition from upper elementary school to junior high school. Despite my mild CP, I can ascend and descend steps rather easily using a railing. Such the case, I wanted to use the stairs at school like everybody else. My parents maintained other ideas. Citing safety concerns, they pretty much told me I must take the elevator at school.

Unfortunately for me my objections fell on stubborn ears. I tried to make a case based on the premise my fellow preteens and young teenagers would be careful on the steps and not accidently knock me over in a rush to their next classes. My parents didn’t buy in, deeming my argument youthfully naïve. Generally speaking throughout the IEP process there laid our main communication hurdle, a failure to appreciate each other’s perspectives.

Off Balanced Book Cover

 While my parents innocently shrugged off my argument as youthfully naïve, I viewed their worries and proposed accommodation purely restrictive. Not until a decade later when writing Off Balanced did I come to value my parents’ position. They never raised a child with cerebral palsy before. Mom and Dad simply did their best to keep me safe. No one should complain that his or her parents care.

On the other hand I think Mom and Dad could’ve done more to see my viewpoint. A preteen mind doesn’t typically contain the mental tools necessary to mold the best responses. So, parental guidance matters. To keep with the current example, I grew frustrated my parents didn’t seriously contemplate my argument. Resulting In stereotypical preteen fashion, I went upstairs to my bedroom and sulked in my emotions.

What might my parents done differently to offer guidance? Maybe inquire, “Why is doing the stairs with your peers so important to you?” Through my answer they could grasp I associated the ability to blend in with higher self-esteem and self-worth. Another possibility Mom and Dad could’ve recommended, “Let’s raise this topic at the IEP meeting and get Mickey (the school’s physical therapist) take. She ought to provide a knowledgeable opinion.”

Ultimately reaching out to understand your child’s perspective will help him or her fulfill his or her potential. After all accommodations on the IEP transcend basic academics, affecting your child mentally, socially, and beyond.

To learn more about how my accommodations affected me as an adolescent,  Off Balanced (available on the Kindle and Nook).


ABOUT ZACHARY          

Zachary Fenell

Zachary Fenell found a passion for writing in high school. Physically limited due to a mild case of cerebral palsy he soon discovered his ability as a wordsmith. After earning his BA in communication with writing/philosophy minors from Notre Dame College, Zachary focused on using writing and social media as platforms for raising disability awareness. In addition to writing Off Balanced Zachary publishes various disability related articles online and promotes disability awareness using social media.

Photo Credit:  Bindaas Madhavi and Zachary Fenell