Written by special guest blogger:
Katie Curran, MAPP
It’s that time of year – IEP season!
Whether you are a parent of a child who needs an Individualized Education Plan or a special educator tasked with writing the plan, you are likely preparing for upcoming meetings. These meetings aim to set the educational focus for the next 12 months for learners with special needs. The room will be full of professions – speech pathologists, teachers, occupational therapists, paraprofessionals, principals, case managers, and parent(s). But, who is missing?
You guessed it…the student! I have been attending IEP meetings for 15 years and have only seen a handful of meetings where the student was invited and supported in being there. Imagine, all of the important people in your life get together and make a plan for the next 12 months of your life, and then don’t include you in the meeting! Time and resources should be applied to help students attend.
Let’s talk about why the student is typically left out. They are left out because these meetings, much like the IEPs themselves, are deficit-focused. In the first 5 minutes, someone will share a “Strengths and Weaknesses” narrative which leads to several smiles and sighs at the “strengths” noted. Check the box, we are done with strengths.
The remainder of the meeting is focused on all the things the student cannot do, goals to help them do them, and behavior problems that are preventing learning. Year after year, goal after goal, the child’s IEP is based on weaknesses. Now, you might be saying – "that's right, we are trying to help them catch up." But is this the best way?
Take a look at a typically-developing child. If a child excels in math, no one would dare say, “we don’t need to put him in math class, he is already good at that. Let’s give him double world languages instead.” Nor do we say to the child who is demonstrating great creativity or curiosity about the world, “you don’t need that science robotics camp you are creative enough as you are.” Instead, we seek out extra math and look for opportunities to nourish and grow his or her character strengths of creativity and curiosity. How does that student feel in math class or robotics camp? Probably - successful, energized, and happy!
All too often we do the opposite to kids with special needs. Look at any IEP and answer this: How many of the goals are based on the student’s strengths versus weakness? The school day will be mostly focused on goals about areas of deficit. How does that student feel – frustrated, sad, like a failure? Is this the best way to help these students flourish? No, we can do better.
The VIA Survey of character strengths is the ideal place to start. It helps professionals by providing a tool that brings character strengths to the forefront of the IEP process. As a positive psychology consultant, I work with schools and families to prepare students for their IEP process by implementing the following steps:
New Research on Character Strengths and Disability
About the Author
Katie M. Curran, MAPP is founder and executive director of Strength Based Behavior Consulting in the New York City area. She consults widely to private and public schools on the application of positive psychology. She is an international leader in the application of character strengths. Her work background and training includes the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton Child Development Institute, Kennedy Krieger Institute, and Stanford University Graduate School of Business.