Independence is Never a Goal in my Kids' IEPs

The Neurodivergent Doctor

25th June, 2022
So, don’t hang back. Embrace Interdependence. When my kid asks for help to rule up their page, help them with pride.

IEP? What is that?

IEP meetings are a regular part of our school calendar.

What’s an IEP meeting?

IEP = Individualised Education Plan

In Australian schools, all disabled kids have a right to accommodations. This is to help them access the curriculum the same as their non-disabled school mates.

Disability accommodations include physical things like wheelchairs, access ramps, sensory-friendly seating, fidgets, noise cancelling headphones, visual prompts and schedules, and other things like an Education Assistant (EA) giving needed help. The IEP should be a record of the accommodations your kid needs, and their goals.

Should "Independence" be a goal on an IEP?

Over the years, teachers have often included “independence” as the goal on my kids’ IEPs.

At first, this seemed totally reasonable. School is about teaching. We’ve all experienced learning something from a teacher – at first we need a lot of help, but after being shown what to do, and practicing, we can do it on our own! Sounds good, right?

One year, I was sitting in an IEP meeting and the Associate Principal announced:

“We’re going to tell the EA to hang back instead of just jumping in to help, encourage your kid to do things by themselves. Because it’s important to promote independence.”

Now. If I know one thing about my kid, it’s this: they LOVE the sense of mastery that comes with achieving their own goal, their own way. I see their whole posture swell with pride as they check my reaction “did you see that mum? I did that all by myself”.

My kid would not want help unless they needed it. And neurodivergent disabled kids need help for lots of reasons:

-        Neurodivergent skills are variable.

-        School is exhausting when you’re autistic.

-        Help for one part of a task might lead to big opportunities.

For example: dyspraxia and joint hypermobility make it really hard for my kid to rule a page into columns for a spelling test.

The ruler slips, they drop the pencil, the red lines go everywhere. They feel embarrassed and frustrated - they can’t take pride in this work that doesn’t match their vision. So they get stuck. They might miss out on the  spelling test.

Why not make Independence the goal?

Knowing this, they’ll often ask straight up for the EA to rule their page. And they deserve that help because…

Neurodivergent skills are variable:

Sometimes, my kid CAN  and WILL rule up their page, quick and easy.

IF their finger joints aren’t already tired and wobbly.

IF their brain pathways aren’t all busy dealing with sensory information.

IF the praxis part of their brain allows the intent to rule a line on the page, to translate into actually ruling a line (instead of squashing their own hand with their ruler, sliding their page right off the desk, stabbing the pencil into their hand, or any number of unintended movements).

My kid ruling a page one day, does not mean they can do it every day.

School is exhausting when you’re autistic.

Sensory overwhelm. Executive dysfunction. Double empathy problem. Stigma. My kid faces this all day every day and still shows up with calm graciousness. They should be validated for their effort. They should get to decide when they’re too tired to do something.

Help for one part of a task might lead to big opportunities.

My kid is an amazing speller. They see a word, they tag it with an emotion, or the sound of the word being spoken, or an image of it on a page of text, then it gets filed in their brain forever. They can totally blitz a spelling test. That success can cascade: into identifying as a kid who’s a stand-out at spelling, who can learn, who has strengths. Their peers get to know this too. This grows their self esteem. And they know, when they ask for help for the thing they need in order to be included, their request will be taken seriously. This is where resilience comes from.

Let's Embrace Interdependence Instead

So, don’t hang back. Embrace Interdependence. When my kid asks for help to rule up their page, help them with pride. Better yet, get them a book with pages pre-ruled and ready to go. Even better? Set out a pile of pre-ruled papers, and a pile of unruled papers for the class. Let all the kids choose if they want to rule up themselves or not.

Our IEP goals don't include independence.

We aim for: inclusion, opportunity, autonomy, choice.

Note: This blog has been edited to fit Square Peg Round Whole website.

Original blog:

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