Once you learn that your child has a disability of some kind and qualifies for special education, there is much to be done. Depending on the age of the child, there are 0-3 services, preschool and then school age. Once you are comfortably settled into the special needs world and get to know other moms….you’ll hear much complaining and worrying about “transition.” Transition means many things in our world, but in most conversations it means the time period when the child is completing 12th grade or turning 21 and entering the “real world.” It is well known that most college services and adult services pale in comparison to what is available at schools, so it’s reason to worry. After all, for many of us, our child may never be 100% fully independent, or may not reach it at 18 or 21–they might need more time and services. A Vision Statement for your child’s IEP is one of the best things you can do for your child–it gets everyone centered and focused on one thing–the vision.
Blog owner’s note: This post was originally written and published in 2014. I am reworking it and updating it for the ABCs of IEPs series. I thought of many V words, including Vocation and Vocabulary…but having a Vision and Vision Statement that your child helped develop…that is one of the most important things, in my opinion.
I personally have had several advocates and moms remind me “transition begins in kindergarten!” which can be overwhelming and daunting. I mean, who wants to think about what is going to happen 15 or 16 years from now and start dreading the day? Right? This past weekend I was at a conference and was introduced to the concept of developing a Vision Statement for your child. Sure, it’s for their IEP, but it’s for their life. For me, this makes the task do-able.
I made up a printable worksheet booklet for families to develop a vision statement for their IEP. Businesses do it all the time. Google it and you’ll see lots of life coaches and mentors proclaiming that EVERYONE should have a vision statement. So why not a child with special needs?
At the workshop, I had a chuckle when this mom said that her daughter’s vision statement was the first page of her IEP and that they read it at the beginning of every IEP meeting. “Right!” I thought. “I can’t wait until I try to convince a district to change the first page of an IEP!”
But think about this for a minute. Take your top Honors/AP student/athlete at your local high school. If they went to a meeting with their guidance counselor and presented them with a vision statement, what would happen? Why, they would be praised, of course! It could say that they want to play ball at a D1 school or attend an Ivy League school…and the guidance counselor wouldn’t feel threatened nor obligated to send that child to an Ivy League school, would they? So they shouldn’t feel threatened by our Vision Statements either.
The Vision Statement is the big picture. It’s what we all want out of life, but we’re just going to write it for our child. It’s what we want for all of our children.
Think of phrases like:
- obtain meaningful employment
- contribute to society
- volunteer in the community
- participate in meaningful social activities
- opportunities for personal growth
- opportunity to develop meaningful friendships
- pursue post-secondary educational opportunities
I shared my rough drafts with a few friends and parents. One said, “I like it, except you haven’t included a part of HOW to get there.”
That is on purpose. This is not the how. This is not accommodations and strategies and supports to get you there. This is there. This is the goal, the destination. When everyone has their eyes on the same goal, the team should much more easily be able to agree on the “how.” One mom gave the example that what her district offered her (when her child was in 9th grade) was a plan to get through school and on to a sheltered workshop. That’s it. This particular student already had meaningful part-time work in her community. She had a goal of living independently, with supports, and having meaningful work. She was already half-way there. School kept pushing sheltered workshop. The vision wasn’t the same.
This has changed my thinking. I used to think that it didn’t matter what the school thinks my child is going to do at age 21, as long as the proper supports & services are there along the way. Now, I see the light….the proper supports and services are never going to be there if we don’t share the vision. Now it’s my job to define the vision for them.
This isn’t about focusing on “what is realistic.” This is what your child wants for their life plan. For example, I once spoke with a parent who had school personnel basically crush her kid’s dreams when they said, “Oh no, you’ll never be a veterinarian.” First, never say never. But second, to quote one of my friends…you can give me that information on a silver platter or on a trash can lid. They chose the trash can lid. Fact is, it would be very difficult for this student to become a vet due to academic struggles. But, they can volunteer at a shelter. They can wash dogs and cats, and brush and comb dogs and cats. They can go in and visit pets in shelters, walk them, help rehabilitate them so that they are adoptable. They could volunteer at community pet adoption events. Work part-time at the local pet store. They could muck stalls and exercise horses and wash horses with the right training. Hand feed babies that need it. The possibilities to work with animals in a different capacity are endless….and many of those are very realistic for that student. So the phrase “work with animals in some capacity” goes on the vision statement.
Keep it broad. Keep it student focused. Allow the child to participate, self-advocate and learn self-determination to the greatest extent possible. Don’t get caught up in the “how are we going to do this?” This is about the vision, the goal. I bet not one family will write that they have a vision and hope for a sheltered workshop. Or sitting at home doing nothing. “My vision is that I will fold napkins for $0.25 an hour and not have any friends or any activities to do and wither away in my parents’ basement.” But it happens. Our kids have hopes and goals and dreams just like all other kids and are able to be contributing productive members of society…they just need the opportunity. Let your team know that you are not settling for less.
My own personal mission statement would include:
- be a contributing member to a loving and caring household (mom, wife)
- volunteer in my community for causes that are important to me (kids, special ed)
- work at a job that I am passionate about(advocating and lobbying)
- have hobbies that allow me enjoyment and personal growth (blogging)
The items in parentheses are what I do that is part of fulfilling my goals. I wouldn’t put specific goals like that in a mission statement. Those are to be further defined and honed in on as the child gets older. Then you could add in a love for animals, loves books, loves the outdoors, loves fishing….and work on measurable goals and supports as part of the IEP, to get you there.
Ok, I have talked enough. Here is the workbook so that you can start your Vision Statement. I know for me, owning it, doing it, writing it down….has really eased some of my anxieties about the dreaded “transition.” Good luck and have fun with it.
For more information on how to use the Vision Statement as part of the IEP organizer project, click here. The Vision Statement workbook comes free with the IEP organizer or you can download it here for free.
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