IEP Assistance & Planning
A school IEP meeting is your opportunity to advocate for the accommodations and supports necessary to ensure your child gets the highest quality education. Attended by teachers, administrators, and school specialists, parents often find these meetings overwhelming - especially because so much is at stake. Many aren't sure of their rights, what to ask for, or how best to advocate for their child in a school environment. FOCUS Therapy provides Fort Myers IEP assistance and planning for families of children with disabilities in Southwest Florida.
IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan. It's a federal program that falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. Qualifying for an IEP is a process within itself. Once an IEP is established, meetings will be held once annually to update the plan. The IEP is a "living" document that will guide your child's education. It specifies - line-by-line - your child's goals, what type of specialized services they're entitled to receive, and what sort of educational tools are needed to allow them to be educated in the least restrictive environment. Revisions to the IEP made throughout the year if there's a material change in circumstances that warrants a different approach with greater or fewer supports or accommodations.
But just because a child is diagnosed with a condition like autism or ADHD or global developmental delay by a medical doctor does not automatically mean they'll qualify for an IEP through the school district. Further, an IEP doesn't guarantee your child will automatically receive all the services and accommodations you'd like them to have. Parents are their child's voice in these meetings. You may need to come prepared to make a strong case for why certain supports and services are necessary for your child to thrive in school. We can help.
How a Private Therapist Can Help Parents With IEP Planning & Assistance
Jennifer Voltz-Ronco, MS-CCC/SLP and FOCUS Therapy Owner and Founder, worked as a speech therapist in school settings for a number of years before going into private practice and later opening her own clinic. She explained that parents, as an integral part of the IEP team, have the right to invite whoever they'd like to attend their child's IEP meeting with them. We're happy to attend and help you prepare!
"Our role is to help parents advocate to ensure their child receives all the accommodations, supports, and services they're eligible to receive - so that they can reach their maximum potential at school," Voltz-Ronco explained. "Although a therapist from the school district might attend as well, they may not know your child as well as their FOCUS therapists. And if both therapists know your child well - even better - because two heads are better than one."
Your FOCUS therapist works with your child on a 1:1 basis every week (sometimes multiple times a week). We can offer the school a greater depth of professional insight on your child's demonstrated skills and deficits and how they respond to certain treatment and strategies. This can be invaluable to teachers and administrators as they're planning the best path to success for your child in a school setting.
A therapist can also speak to the other specialists in the room with the correct terminology to ensure we're all on the same page and talking about the same things.
We can also provide and explain the child's most recent evaluation(s) and plan-of-care. (If all you want are these documents to supply to the school, we can provide them to you free of charge upon request - and reasonable lead time of at least two business days.)
"The IEP team can include this information in the IEP document - which is going to follow your child for the entire academic year, and will stay a part of your child's school records indefinitely," Voltz-Ronco explained. "Your child's therapist can advocate for a proper balance of therapy vs. in-classroom time, as well as instruction supports. We can give specific ideas for accommodations that we know are likely to benefit your child throughout their school day. These can include anything from visual calendars and simplified directions to additional reminders about bathroom breaks and hygiene."
In the end, having all this information makes the school's job easier. FOCUS therapists are specialists in child development, and we provide schools with information that's highly relevant and useful.
But of course, our primary goal is the well-being and best interests of our patients. We provide Fort Myers IEP assistance and planning because we're committed to doing all we can to advocate for our patients and ensure they have all the supports they need to reach their highest potential in education.
Fort Myers IEP Assistance & Planning FAQ
Considering Fort Myers IEP assistance & planning help from FOCUS Therapy? Here are some frequently asked questions:
Q. Is this a service solely offered to FOCUS Therapy patients?
A. Not necessarily. If a child is evaluated at FOCUS therapy, the evaluating therapist can speak to their needs based on their findings in that assessment - even if they aren't receiving therapy with us. As a general rule, we don't conduct evaluations unless we have capacity to treat that child, but we are sometimes asked to provide a second opinion. In that case, the evaluating therapist could attend the IEP. (This assumes the evaluation was fairly recent, within the last 3-6 months.) If your child is not a patient but you are interested in having a private therapist help advocate for your child at their next IEP meeting, we can conduct an evaluation and arrange for the assessing therapist to be available for the meeting. That said, if a child is regularly receiving therapy at FOCUS, their therapist(s) will have more information to provide and is in a better position to advocate.
Q: Do FOCUS therapists need special training or qualifications to help with IEP planning and assistance?
A: Any therapist who works with your child at FOCUS is qualified to provide the IEP team with valuable insight pertaining to your child's abilities, deficits, goals, and effective treatments. No additional qualifications are required. However, a therapist with experience working in both school and clinical settings (and we have several) can be especially helpful as they have a strong understanding of how the child's needs are impacted in both settings. They can be especially helpful in suggesting effective accommodations and supports for school.
Q: Does insurance cover therapist attendance at IEPs? How is it billed?
A: Private insurance generally does NOT cover this service. However, many parents find it incredibly valuable, which is why FOCUS negotiates a fair, hourly fee for consultation and advocacy in this role. (Yes, we need to be adequately compensated, but this isn't a money-maker for us. Our goal is truly to help set your child up for the greatest academic success possible.) Hourly fees are determined based on the needs of the child and the level of therapist involvement requested by the family.
Q: Can I choose the level of private therapist involvement in the IEP process?
A: Absolutely! This is not a one-size-fits-all sort of deal. If you feel comfortable attending the IEP meeting on your own, but think it would be beneficial to have the therapist generate a report on recommended accommodations or just provide you with a few pertinent points to bring up or questions to ask - we can do that! If you'd like us to help you prepare and attend as well, we can do that too. You take the lead, and we provide as much - or as little - of our time as you want. We'll only bill for the hours we work.
Q: Can I just get copies of my child's evaluation(s) and plan-of-care to take to the meeting?
A: Yes, FOCUS Therapy can provide these records to you free-of-charge upon request - and reasonable lead time of at least two business days.
Final Thoughts on Private Therapist IEP Assistance
Bottom line: The more information and relevant perspectives you can bring to the table, the greater the likelihood the process will result in an IEP that not only clearly and accurately reflects your child's needs, but also one that includes as many necessary accommodations, supports, and services as possible.
Think of it this way: If a child has a complicated medical condition, their doctors will prioritize getting all involved professionals across specialties on the same page and working together. This ensures the right hand is talking to the left and the child is getting the best care possible. Having a private therapist involved in the school IEP process helps close the information gap between what's going on at school and how they're responding to treatment in a 1:1 clinical setting. A lot of times, the same or similar strategies used in therapy can be carried over by teachers in a school setting. This also helps with consistency across environments - which means your child actually reaches their goals faster!
We recognize that IEP meetings can be overwhelming for many parents. There's a lot of information discussed. School staff and administrators are often highly competent and deeply caring individuals - but they have a lot on their plate, and they may not know your child as well as we do.
Having your child's therapist at your side - someone who is a highly-skilled professional who knows your child well and cares about them very much - can be a comfort as well as a confidence-booster. We make sure you truly understand what's being said. We also make sure your concerns are clearly understood and carefully considered by the rest of the team. We are here to support both you and your child by advocating for an IEP that is ultimately going to provide your child with the critical tools they need to learn and grow and thrive at school.
If you are interested in FOCUS Therapy's Fort Myers IEP Planning & IEP Assistance services, Contact Us for more information to discuss how we can help!