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How To Help Students Advocate For Themselves With Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)

Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are designed to help students with disabilities receive the support they need and benefit everyone involved. Unfortunately, IEPs are not always understood by the student or their parents. This lack of understanding keeps IEPs from fully supporting students in their learning. The poor implementation makes IEPs ineffective and keeps students from advocating for themselves.

This week on the podcast, I chatted with Erin Castillo about her role as a special education teacher and how her own learning disability has impacted the way she advocates for students.

Getting Parent Buy-In Some parents are hesitant to discuss their child's disability - even going as far as not revealing the diagnosis to the child. As an educator, I believe that

causes more damage. Not telling them about their disability makes it scarier than it is. I was diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder, a common learning disability, when I was in college. Because of the stigma surrounding learning disabilities, my parents chose not to have me tested. Once I understood my disorder [I felt relieved], I knew what I needed and could advocate for myself once I had the tools.

To get buy-in, I start the dialogue early to get parent buy-in, ensuring that I share details about learning goals and the available accommodations we created for the student. I convey this information through letters, surveys, etc.

Helping Students Advocate For Themselves With the parent's permission, I then work with students to help them champion for themselves- I explain to them that there are accommodations and protections to help them learn better. I teach them how to respectfully ask for those accommodations when they need them. I also explain the difference between modifications versus accommodations. Accommodations are something to make education more accessible. For example, adding read-aloud as an option or additional time during assignments, whereas a modification is changing the standard. Once we break the stigma, the IEP really works.

When we create a classroom environment where students feel safe and respected, they are open to employing their IEPs to manage their experience and thrive in the classroom.

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