Why your IEP needs a Vision Statement. {+Free Workbook!}

Why your IEP needs a Vision Statement looking out the front window of a car at the highway and sky
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An IEP Vision Statement is one of the best things you can do for your child.

It’s called the Black Hole of 21. Once you are comfortably settled into the IEP world and get to know other moms, you’ll hear complaining and worrying about “transition.” Transition means many things, but in our world, it means the time period when the child is completing 12th grade or turning 21 and entering the “real world.”

I had a huge wake-up call this morning. I’m assisting a friend with her son’s IEP. The child happens to have the same rare condition that my son has; that is how we met. When we first met, the boys were babies. And today, while discussing his IEP, we realized that this is his first transition IEP. Gulp. It.happens.so.fast.

So, I had promised to send her the free printable future planning workbook (see below) and decided to update it. The one you see below is the new one, and it also helps explain why the beginning of this blog post might seem disjointed with the other parts. Part of the blog post was done in 2014, and some in 2019.

It is well-known that most college services and adult services pale in comparison to what is available at schools, so it’s reasonable to worry. After all, for many of us, our child may never be 100% fully independent, or may not reach independence by age 18 or 21. They might need more time and services.

Why your IEP needs a Vision Statement
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I 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 doable.

It gets everyone centered and focused on one thing: the vision.

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!”

Why your IEP needs a Vision Statement
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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.

Creating an IEP Vision Statement for Future Planning.

The Vision Statement is the big picture. It’s what we all want out of life. We’re just going to write it with 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
  • take part 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. A vision statement is not accommodations and strategies and supports. This is there, 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.”

Your IEP is your road map. Your Vision Statement is the destination. How do you know which map to get, if you don’t know where you’re going?

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 and 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. It’s our job to define the vision with our child’s maximum participation. Again, the map analogy. How do you know you have the right road map, if you and the IEP team don’t have the same destination in mind?

What does your child want to do?

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 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. Perhaps that student can wash dogs and cats. Or maybe brush and comb dogs and cats. Another possibility would be to 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.

I feel like I cannot get started with this 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, and writing it down has really eased some of my anxieties about the dreaded “transition.” Good luck and have fun with it.

Free Printable Vision Statement/Future Planning Workbook:

IEP-Student-Vision-Statement

Why your IEP needs a Vision Statement looking out the front window of a car at the highway and sky
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