Last year I had the chance to review my first IEP and study the process surrounding them. My statement from the review of the 2-inch-thick document was:

"The quality of an IEP should be measured in WTFs per page."

How is it that an autistic kid is supposed to be able to comprehend all that stuff and then follow the behavior support plan (also written in paragraphs)? How ANYONE is supposed to measure the crap they put into those plans is completely beyond me.

Consistency
At dinner yesterday, I explained to some friends re: autistic kids and IEPs/behavior. We need consistency. In my case, it is either on or off, and "off sometimes" is off. So if you make a rule and then only follow through on that rule on occasion... it is not a rule in my mind. There is no arguing this logic. By having a very easy to follow and read IEP and behavior support plan, a single person (usually the parent) can drive consistency better through the teachers and other caregivers in the child's life.

Prioritize!!!!
The second thing I believe that has to be understood about IEPs is how to prioritize. If you have an ASD kid in your care who is having meltdowns, THAT has to be the one and only focus of all the caregivers in order to establish any sort of baseline about what other things the kid needs.

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I succesfully used the following BSP along with this IEP to get one 7th grader to go from 4-5 meltdowns a week in school to zero. ANY parent can take this and make it their own. The typical IEP format is not important to your kid if he is having metldowns or behavior issues due to sensory or any other "lack of perspective" issues on the part of his caregivers.

One of the things you have to be highly aware of in school situations is that an ASD kid gets almost NO breaks without your intervention....



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Understanding this, it is easy to make an IEP that looks more like this:



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The Behavior Support Plan Part!

And the most critical part of any IEP is the BSP (behavior support plan). It MUST be written as clearly as this one and then DRIVEN with consistency! If it is in paragraph format and if folks are trying to measure all that other crap, you are going to miss the boat. Forcus on the "right" stuff and drive it 100%! A really important piece of information about the "binary mind" is that sometimes off is the same as OFF. In other words, if a broken rule is only sometimes punished then it is no longer a rule in my mind.
ASD_Template_BSP_Rev1.jpgThe Behavior Support Plan template can be found here:




A Testimony about this IEP strategy:


The mother of this child recently wrote the following blog post to more clearly explain how his plan worked for him:

XXX just started 8th grade with his very unusual and truly custom IEP, which we established toward the end of last year. I'm sharing it mainly to demonstrate that the standard "teach social skills" protocol for ASD kids is not the only way to go. XXX has severe anxiety and moderate sensory hypersensitivity. He is also socially aware enough and intelligent enough that he can conceal his "autisticness" much of the time—which leads people to underestimate how disabled he is and demand much more of him than he can give. But when he is in an environment that suits him (like a science elective, with kids who chose to be there and an engaging teacher), he is at ease socially and intellectually, allowing his social skills to emerge and be "exercised" and strengthened quite naturally--as long as his innate limits are respected.

He was horribly bullied last year, was badly mishandled by a SpEd teacher, and is starting fresh at a different junior high in the same district. We advocated successfully for an approach that is completely different from what they normally do, to allow him to develop trust and respect in this new environment and the people who serve him there.

Unlike most IEPs for ASD kids, XXX's is deliberately vacant of detailed communication goals and hours upon hours of services. Currently his goals are 1) reducing/eliminating meltdowns and 2) a very small amount of communication with Ms. C, the teacher of the SpEd class for ASD kids, with the intent of establishing a mutually respectful relationship (and this qualifies as the required Specially Designed Instruction). That's it. He is not subjected to several hours a week of social skills training (i.e. "how to act NT") nor does he get pulled out of classes for therapies.

There are three components to the IEP.

1. Class schedule:

Over the past several months we have observed that XXX's baseline for group activity or loud/social/stimulating events is about 3 hours maximum. This applies even to activities he really enjoys and wants to do. After 3 hours he is just "full" and can take no more. So his school schedule is custom designed around this baseline: he has two classes per day, with his lunch break in between them. The school uses an alternating block schedule of 90-minute classes that meet every other day, so he has 4 subjects total for which he actually sits in a classroom with other students (right now those are math, health, science and a science elective). The remaining core subjects (social studies and language arts) he will begin studying online next week during the second half of his lunch break, while the rest of the students go to "advisory," aka homeroom, aka chaos that serves no purpose for XXX.

During his lunch break is when Ms. C checks in with him briefly. This could mean helping him with something if he asks, or just saying hi and leaving, to establish herself as a familiar, safe and friendly person ("safe" and "friendly" having specific meaning in the ASD culture) and begin to earn his respect (because he won't just give it based on her job or title--she will have to earn it and show him the same).

2. Behavior Support Plan:

The daily function of XXX's IEP is guided by the BSP, which lays out options he can use to help control himself and consequences for loss of control.

• He has a hand signal he can give to teachers (arm out, palm up in a "stop sign") to stop all input. It means he is feeling stressed and he needs them to stop talking to him and turn away or he's going to melt down. The teachers must honor this, and they are also allowed to use it with him if he locks onto a subject or argument and they need him to stop.

• If using the hand signal to cut off all input is not enough to keep his anxiety from escalating and he thinks he may lose control, he can step out of the classroom, either to gather himself in the hallway or bathroom, or to go to the conference room and take a break.

• If he takes a break and still fears he is going to have a meltdown, he can call me on his cell phone and I will come get him. We will be working to minimize this as a tool over the course of the school year, but right now it's a valid option and he gets praise for using it instead of melting down.

Should he fail to use his meltdown-avoidance tools successfully and he does have a meltdown at school, he faces consequences, which vary depending on whether or not he was violent. That has not happened since we put this plan into place in the last quarter of 7th grade. That's right: ZERO meltdowns at school on this plan, after spending the first few months of the school year having several per week.

3. Accommodations:

These serve as "wheelchair ramps" to allow him to access an education despite his disability.

• He eats lunch in a conference room, alone. This is not a sign that he is missing out on socializing or not being made to face the real world. This is a legitimately needed break from the noise, lights, and input of the classroom and hallways. Forcing him to eat in the loud, chaotic cafeteria with everyone else would be like dumping him out of his wheelchair and demanding that he walk. Allowing him a quiet place to eat alone is acknowledging his disability and building a ramp.

• He is allowed to have his cell phone in his pocket and turned on at all times and can use it to text me (out of classes and sight of other students) to connect through the day, which ratchets down his anxiety a bit, or to call as described in his BSP.

• He has a full extra set of textbooks at home so he doesn't have to stress about which books to bring home on which days (last year, before we did this, he was carrying all of his textbooks every day for fear he'd forget the one he needed, which was a dangerous amount of weight on his back).

• He may choose to leave/arrive at classes a few minutes early or late to avoid the overwhelming crowds in the hallways.

• He gets advance notice of fire/earthquake drills and schedule changes, such as assemblies or special events, so we can keep him home or have him go elsewhere (conf. room, library) instead.

• He wears a set of custom earplugs on a string around his neck and can use them anytime.

• If there is reading or other material intended for 2 or more students to use at the same time, he gets his own copy whenever possible.

• He has the option of working alone during group projects.

• He gets preferential seating (thoughtful choice of location and/or desk partner).

• He may advocate for an alternate assignment to one that is abstract or otherwise unrealistic.

Some of these are not officially part of the IEP but the school agreed to them when the issues came up. Most are written in and thus legally binding.

XXX's adult life will need to fit his individual needs, and so his education needs to do the same. My dream for this amazing boy is that he can get the education that will open up as many options as possible for his future, so he can design a life that suits him.