Grasping For Grades: A Mom’s Quest To Promote Self Advocacy in IEP

If you work with students with disabilities at a school or are a parent of a child with special needs, you are probably very familiar with IEP or Individualized Education Program. In the school system, IEP is meant to help children with special needs achieve their academic goals using several mechanisms which may include  modified classroom instruction, homework assignments, physical occupation and speech therapy, psychological counseling and many more. Through IEP, the student’s academic goals and current & future accommodations are reviewed. The objective of IEP is to come up with an official document that outlines the plan to help the student perform in a “normal school culture”.
In theory it sounds great. However, the truth is that IEP is a very complex process that requires a ton of documentation that is lengthy and complex, which can be intimidating, confusing and frustrating to a parent. The meetings are not regular, and they are mostly  between the parent(s) and school staff, and not necessarily the student. The guidelines around the process of coming up with a plan are rigid and archaic. At the end of it all, someone from the school staff is determining what a student requires without really getting input from the students themselves.
Holly Lane, mother of 15 year old Nathan, is on a quest to change the archaic system and bring more

flexibility and self advocacy into IEP. Nathan has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and has been a part of IEP since he was 5. Holly has been actively involved in all the meetings right from the beginning and has faced the frustration of dealing with cumbersome documentation and one sided interactions. Research has shown that students who participate in their own IEPs experience greater academic success and satisfaction [1]  and she strongly feels that student self advocacy is essential to IEP centered academic achievement [2]. She really wants administrative officials to get that message so everyone  involved (including the student) could quickly and efficiently come up with a success plan.

As a part of her capstone project for her bachelor’s degree, Holly is conducting a research around the question: “How might students use technology to self-advocate during the IEP development process?”. She wants to gather as much data as possible from parents and teachers in order to propose a mechanism that will have students with disabilities involved in the development of their IEPs. If you have opinions about IEP and want to contribute to Holly’s project, please go to the following link to submit your responses.
Holly is beginning to take small steps that will eventually let her and others involved in IEP take a bigger leap in making changes to the program. To begin with,  she will be sharing results of this survey with her capstone advisor and entire department. She will also be attempting to publish her research in a peer reviewed journal. Needless to say, all of her findings will be published on Holly and Nathan’s website where you will find more information about Nathan, IEP and of course, the survey to Holly’s capstone research.
Holly has also made a short documentary that shows Nathan and her struggles as they go through their daily lives that’s dictated by a not so efficient IEP designed for them.  Holly and Nathan document the shortcomings of IEP very well and provide food for thought on redesigning IEP and considering different perspectives while coming up with a plan. This documentary is a work in progress and there is more to come in the near future.

If you don’t want to/ can’t fill the survey, go to just to read and watch Nathan and Holly’s story.

[1] Mason, C. Y., McGahee-Kovac, M., & Johnson, L. (2004). How to help students lead their IEP meetings. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 36(3), 18-25.

[2] Hart, J.E., & Brehm, J. (2013). Promoting self-determination: A model for training elementary students to self-advocate for IEP accommodations. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 45(5), 40-48.

Citation Source: Holly Lane

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