Your Child’s IEP: Focusing on What They Can Do

parent-teacher-conferences-frustratedIt’s IEP review season, at least in New York State, and that means it’s time to sit down and listen to the educators and therapists who work with your child to discuss his progress, or lack thereof. Depending upon the relationship between the members of your child’s teaching team the meeting will either be a positive event where you can walk away and feel assured that he is on the right path, or it can be an exercise in frustration as you leave feeling that his needs are not being met.

During this time there is a tendency by all involved (parents, educators, and therapists) to focus on the learning and behavior problems that your child has, and little time is spent discussing the strengths that she brings to the classroom. If goals are not being met on an IEP and there are still areas of weakness, then the solution is often to increase time spent on these areas. Is your child struggling with writing? Then let’s make her spend more time on isolated writing exercises. Is your child having problems following multi-step directions? Then lets pull him out of the classroom and make him practice this skill.

While I am not against providing children with opportunities to increase their skills and knowledge through practice (Malcolm Gladwell suggests it takes 10,000 hours of practicing a specific task to become successful.) I do think that we often focus on the weaknesses of our children at the expense of their strengths.

Stanley Greenspan, in his book Playground Politics: Understanding the Emotional Life of Your School-Age Child, asks us to imagine how we would feel if we were made to spend 90 percent of our time doing tasks that were difficult. One example he uses is what if you were right handed, but made to write with your left hand several hours a day. The results would be frustrating and would not make you develop enjoyment of the task. Dr. Greenspan’s suggestion is to “spend no more than 50 percent of practice time on a child’s weakness,” the other 50 percent of the time should be spent on developing your child’s natural strengths.

Think of ways to help your child use their strengths to develop their weaknesses. By working together with your child’s IEP team you should be able to arrive at some creative solutions, rather than simply writing down the same old frustrating exercises.


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  1. This is such a great post. Focusing on your student’s strengths is a great way to articulate more realistic goals for improving skills that still need work by incorporating strengths into the goal. In order to practice, you student needs to be motivated. Motivation comes from success. So, having a student repeat a failure over and over again isn’t going to get him/her across the finish line. Good stuff! (And thank you for the link back.)

    • Krysty says:

      I really appreciate your comment. I remember one of the first hearing loss workshops I went to and all the speaker told me was all the things that my son couldn’t do – I felt like crying! I recognize his areas of weakness, but am all about promoting his strengths. I was happy to link to your post, I love finding well written, informative content!

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