Monday, October 5, 2009


When kids have language delays, they often qualify for special education services. Whether the child is school-age or younger, these services usually are coordinated by the public schools. Parents of special-needs kids go to long meetings. The kids go through even longer evaluations. In the end, the district and the family come up with an IEP, the individualized education plan. With an agreed-upon plan, teachers and service providers work with the child to get them to age-appropriate language.

When I first went through this process with Martin, I was completely bewildered. There was terminology I didn't understand. They referenced therapies I had never heard of. But most strange to me were the "measures." IEPs include measures for evaluating a child's progress. We can't know if a kid is getting better unless we propose a goal and figure out if they achieve it. In Martin's case, one of the early goals was for him to answer questions, the simple yes or no variety. The IEP also had a measure for this goal. "Martin will answer yes or no questions 60% of the time without a prompt and 80% of the time when prompted." That was the goal: a child who would still be silent 40% of the time. And we had to measure it. I found it very painful. For me it became not a measure of progress, but a constant reminder of my kid's abnormality.

Later, after months of work, a new goal was conversational turn-taking, or the ability to go back and forth in a conversation. The goal was for Martin to be in conversations with 2 or 3 turns. A 2-turn conversation might be "Martin, would you like some milk?" "Yes." A 3-turn conversation might be "Mama, what are you doing?" "I'm sewing." "Sewing what?" The goal was for Martin to do 2-turns conversations 60% of the time and 3-turns 40%. Again, that was the goal. Hitting our mark still meant endless conversations in which Martin could not take a turn, moments when there was no way of knowing what he wanted or how he was feeling.

Things have really changed for Martin. He still has an IEP, but the goals are different. Conversational turn-taking is off the plan because Martin does so well at it. Most of the time, he responds to questions. He still has moments where it's clear that he's confused, but nothing like two years ago. I've also stopped looking so much at the goals and the measures. They always made me feel negative. This makes me wonder how my students feel about the grades and paper comments I give them?


  1. Yes, it is an evaluative culture all the way down and all the way up. Even God gets evaluated. I would prefer not to and would like to opt out. I have had real trouble with grading papers. I never minded getting grades. But, I get these real panics about scaling papers.

  2. I think IEP measurements are bs. In fact, the whole public school system is a waste, in my opinion. Who's to say what benchmarks an 8 year old needs to reach? Everyone learns at a different pace and the public school system is set up for failure. My 2 cents . . as you can tell, I've been freshly wounded.

  3. My dearest Jen, I just found your blog and I am totally speechless. I think there are so many of us that have no idea what a day is like in the life of a special needs child and I am one of them. I can only imagine what you might go through on a daily basis so with that said I want you and Stacy to know that you will be in my thoughts and prayers on a daily basis. And I know that I used to be your favorite aunt (lol)so I would only hope that you would never hesitate to ask anything of me that I can do for your family.

    I love you all, Love aunt Marlene