CT FEAT: Families Helping Children Achieve Their Full Potential
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How To Approach A PPT
By Richard Irwin (Parent of a Child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder)


In 1975, the United States Congress passed the Education for Handicapped Children Act to ensure that each child with special needs had the right to free public education. With this Act and subsequent amendments, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal government set out guidelines for government funded educational programs for children with special needs. These guidelines state:

Schools must provide free and appropriate public education to all disabled children between the ages of 3 and 21.

The educational program must be in the "least restrictive environment." This implies a setting that provides the most integration with non-handicapped children. But services may be offered in separate settings if the child’s disability prevents satisfactory progress in a normal classroom setting.
Each child must receive an evaluation designed to identify the child’s specific needs before receiving any services. This evaluation is at the school’s expense.

Each child must receive the additional recommended services necessary for learning.
Each child’s rights are guarded by ensuring that their parents, or guardians, are equal participants in the process. The parents can challenge any portion of the program they feel is incompatible with their child’s goals.

Each child must receive services based on a written individualized educational program (IEP). The IEP very specifically describes the educational services, program goals and other supports that a child will receive from their school system in the coming school year.

An IEP must be reviewed regularly and updated based on the child’s changing needs.

In Connecticut, the development, approval and oversight of an IEP is the responsibility of an entity called the Planning and Placement Team. This team consists of you, the child’s parents, and representatives from the school district. They may include a school administrator, usually the director of special education, the teacher(s), a school psychologist and a speech/language pathologist. A meeting of the Planning and Placement Team is commonly referred to as a PPT.

Either you or the school district can request a PPT. The school must take steps to schedule PPTs at a time and place that is agreeable to everyone involved. A meeting notice must be sent out in advance by the school district and should state the purpose of the meeting, the place and time, and a list of the participants. If you are unable to attend, the school must determine another method of securing your participation such as the use of a conference call. The only way the school can proceed with the meeting without you is if they have made a good faith attempt to secure your participation and have had no response in return.

A PPT is often your first exposure to the school district’s views on the education of your child with an autism spectrum disorder (e.g., Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome or other Pervasive Developmental Disorder) and the services they are willing to offer. It is also your first chance to present your views on what you feel your child’s educational program should look like. Unfortunately, these two views are often quite different. It is in the PPT that these differences are debated, negotiated and, hopefully, ironed out.

If the differences between you and the school district can not be settled through the PPT process, then the next recourse to settle these differences is through a procedure called Due Process. The law mandates an appeals process that you can pursue on your child’s behalf and each state must provide procedures for the appeal process. In Due Process, you and the school district agree to present your cases to an impartial hearing officer appointed by the state. The hearing officer listens to both opinions, weighs the evidence and drafts a decision. If you do not agree with this decision, then further legal action in state or federal court is your final recourse.

The vast majority of Connecticut families requesting intensive intervention based on the principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) have met with resistance from their school districts. An ABA program is costly, time consuming to set-up and administer properly, and requires expertise usually outside the realm of the school district. However, a number of Connecticut families have managed to secure these services without having to resort to Due Process or further legal action. The following are some guidelines drawn from these experiences to help you in the PPT process and in the pursuit of an ABA program for your child. While following these guidelines does not guarantee success, they will hopefully maximize your chances of a positive outcome.

Get a diagnosis. As much as some parents are reluctant to attach a label to their child, a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder (e.g., Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome or other Pervasive Developmental Disorder) from a qualified professional makes your child eligible for more intensive intervention services. The recommendations for treatment that usually accompany any diagnosis can be critical in your dealings with your school system. They can carry a good deal of weight with the school system in a PPT or with a state hearing officer in the event of Due Process. Before having your child assessed by a diagnostician, it is wise to research what type of treatment recommendations they generally make for children with autism and if they are willing to tailor these to the families needs or wishes.

The families of CT FEAT have gone through the process of having their children diagnosed. If you do not know where to turn and would like to learn from their experiences, please feel free to contact CT FEAT by phone at 860-571-3888 or by E-mail at info@ctfeat.org.

Start Early. Although the school district is not responsible for your child’s education until they turn three, the earlier you begin the PPT process the better. Some parents have started the process when their children are as young as two years old. Starting the process before your child turns three has several advantages. Most important of these is that you want your child’s program to be in place when they turn three and not delayed while an IEP is under debate. Even in the best cases, the PPT process can be lengthy. It is widely recognized that for intervention in autism the maxim "the earlier the better" applies and time lost after your child turns three only hurts the child.

Another advantage of starting the PPT process early is that the school district has time to prepare. As was mentioned previously, an ABA program can be costly and will require special expertise not typically found in the school system. Starting early gives you and the school time to find an ABA consultant, hire tutors and manage the logistics of the program.

Parents Are Equal Partners. It is important to realize that under the law you are expected to participate in the PPT process and are equal participants in the process. The PPT is not a forum for the school district to mandate an educational program for your child. Instead the PPT is a forum where both you and the school district representatives must agree to an educational program for your child. As parents, you can challenge any portion of the program that you feel is incompatible with your child’s goals. An IEP can not be implemented without your consent.

Your active participation in the PPT process is critical in protecting the rights of your child with autism. The school system must balance your child’s needs with budget and resource considerations. Therefore, parents are generally the first and best advocate for their children with special needs. Your willingness to advocate strongly on your child’s behalf can make a difference in the services they obtain.
Be Prepared. Your first PPT can have the same feeling as two boxers feeling each other out in the first round of a fight. In effect, you are assessing the school district representatives and they are assessing you. These first impressions can influence future dealings greatly. Therefore, how you handle yourself and present your case are important in building respect and letting the school system know that you are taking the process seriously. One of the keys to handling yourself well in your first PPT is to be prepared.

You’ve made an informed decision in choosing to request an ABA program for your child and this should be made evident in your PPT. Know your subject and be prepared to discuss why you made the choice you did, what data supports your choice and why other programs are not suitable. Prepare handouts that outline specifically what you are requesting for your child or that help to illustrate any point you want to make. In addition, draft a list of realistic goals that you want your child to work toward in the coming school year.

Share Information. Many school districts know very little about ABA and often what they do know about it is incorrect or outdated. You may need to help educate your fellow PPT members. Share all information with the school district that was useful in your choosing to request an ABA program. Give them copies of pertinent articles, research papers or book chapters that illustrate your case. Summarize and share the reasons for your decision. If possible, arrange for the school district representatives to view an existing ABA program. In addition to educating them, this reinforces that you have done your homework and made an informed decision.

It is also helpful to share information about your child. In addition to the diagnosis, share your views on your child’s strengths and weaknesses. If you child has been receiving services from the State of Connecticut Birth to Three, share information on the progress, or lack of progress, your child has made while receiving these services. If you are fortunate enough to have an ABA program in place already, share your data showing your child’s progress to help support your request. In general, the more information you can present to help the school district understand your child’s needs and your position on what constitutes an appropriate educational program the better.
Ask Questions. Ask questions about anything you do not understand or is not completely clear to you, whether this be about the PPT process, terminology or proposals from the school district. Never be afraid to challenge a proposal from the school or disagree if you understand the facts differently. As you have provided data to support your choices, ask the school representatives for supporting data and information to back their proposals.

Bring a Friend. You have the right to bring an advocate to a PPT. An advocate can be anyone, including a supportive friend, your child’s diagnostician, a trained advocate from a parent or government organization or a lawyer. Oftentimes parents only secure the help of an advocate, generally a lawyer, when the PPT process has failed and the case is going to Due Process. Many families have found bringing an advocate to the very first PPT to be very effective and helpful.
Where can I turn for more information?

The families of CT FEAT have each gone through the PPT process. If you would like to learn from their experiences, please feel free to contact CT FEAT by phone at 860-571-3888 or by E-mail at
info@ctfeat.org

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