The One Thing We Insisted Be Included in IEP Meetings for Our Son With Autism


Right after our son’s autism diagnosis, we had our first individualized education program (IEP) meeting.

At the meeting, my son, his dad and I sat around a low table with his teacher, his special education teacher, his IEP case manager and the school principal.

My son entertained himself with rocks and minerals set on the table for the day’s lesson while the adults started to discuss needed accommodations.

The IEP case manager handed us a piece of paper summarizing our son’s “issues” and started to read this list of “problems” out loud.

I was stunned. My son was sitting at the table with us and could hear the manager reading this list of “problems.” Who would be comfortable listening to authority figures recite what was “wrong” with them?

More importantly, there was no list of my son’s strengths to go along with the list of challenges.

This was the real problem.

For every characteristic that can be classified as a “problem,” there’s a flip side — something that actually works as a benefit for my son. It’s part of his strengths.

For example, his sensory sensitivity gives him the benefit of access to a lot of information. When he processes the sensory input, he can analyze what he heard, saw, smelled and felt and can draw some amazing and astute conclusions.

He may have difficulty processing verbal information as a visual thinker, but he remembers what he saw. He can see an extraordinary amount of detail and can draw beautifully.

While my son’s perseveration could be most challenging, it’s also a characteristic that makes him dogged when trying to learn something new he’s interested in.

No child comes into the world with only challenges.

Children with disabilities must learn strategies and methods to use as tools to help them do the things they want to do. These tools must be focused on the child’s strengths and be based on love, creativity and patience.

Failing to use those strengths as the foundation for developing tools — and not even taking those strengths into consideration — is a failure by the adults responsible for supporting the child.

During an IEP, the child’s strengths should be the first thing discussed — challenges second — including an analysis of how each challenge has a “flip side” that works to benefit the child.

At that first IEP meeting, we insisted from that point forward our son’s strengths were to always be prominently listed along with the “problems” the IEP was intended to address, and that his strengths were considered first and used to frame IEP accommodations.

My son later told me that he wasn’t listening to our discussion — he was more focused on the interesting rocks and minerals on the table and didn’t hear the list of “problems.” 

Thank goodness.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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