Narrative Essay: Personal Interview about IEP Process

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Questionnaire Interview

1. How did you learn that Braylin has a disability? (Who was present? When did this happen?) If you were giving advice to professionals who need to explain to a parent that his/her child has a special need, what would that advice be?

'We were at, I was working at Shelly's (Welsh's Pre-K day school), and I noticed that Braylin was not playing with the other kids. Braylin was three at the time. He always played with his dad at the house and the neighborhood kids. However, unusually, on this day, he gestured to the kids at the center that he wanted to be left alone. He did not interact with anybody; he did not join in the group discussion. He flat-out didn't want to talk at all. [Jerome and I] talked that night, expressing our concerns about what we saw at the school. The next morning, we made an appointment with his pediatrician. The results later given to us were the first time we heard that we might be dealing with autism. I was emotionally wrecked. I didn't know what to do. In regards to giving a professional a piece of advice on how to explain to a parent about their child having special needs, it will be best suited to tell them if they have seen some difference in their child, compared to other children on the lines of social interaction, get them tested immediately. Also, on that note, it would be a good idea to not confuse the parent with large terminology words explaining their child's condition, to be compassionate, especially through body language, it would be an overwhelming experience for the parent, so be mindful.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020).

2. How did you feel when you received the diagnosis?

'I was grateful that we finally found out what was going on with our baby boy, so we could get something going to help him. It was a relief in my eyes that it wasn't something more serious. As a parent we strive for our kids to be happy and healthy, so receiving the diagnosis about my little dude was somewhat devasting because I was thinking about him, his ability to make friends, how would they treat him, and how the diagnosis would affect him long term. Those were questions that concern me the most.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020).

3. Have your feelings changed since the initial diagnosis? Describe.

'No, not really. I treat Braylin like a normal kid. I mean, look, it's been six years since we received the news about the diagnosis. We accepted we adjusted to it, and we came to an understanding that our boy can't/won't do the things that we would like for him to do, like playing organized sports or evening taking him to see a movie. Regardless, we love him, and he's happy. We are grateful for that. I truly can say that I have learned how to handle it, instead of fearing it.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020)

4. What have been the positive aspects of having a child in a family with a disability?

'Having a child with a disability has allowed my husband and I to appreciate the good days and has made us more patient—not just with Braylin, but with each other. Having a child with autism is extremely challenging, but at the end of the day, Braylin can't help what he is feeling; we have to do the best we can to help him navigate his way in the world and try not to let our frustrations get in the way of that.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020)

5. What have been the problems or challenges you have experienced having a child with a disability?

'One of the biggest challenges for me was figuring out how to get Braylin to interact with kids his age. He tends to isolate himself and doesn't seek friends/playmates when he's in a group, Jerome and I still want Braylin to be socially interactive. Another challenge was learning how to communicate in a way that worked for my son; he would speak when he was prompted, but most of the time, he communicated by pointing or writing. It took Jerome and me some time to figure out a system that works for Braylin and us.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020)

6. How did your other children react to learning their brother/sister had a disability? What impact has Braylin had on them? (if appropriate)

'We have two other children, Ethan (2) and Devon (5), who are not on the spectrum. I think they are at an age where they don't understand that Braylin is 'different' from them; sometimes Devon will ask us why Braylin doesn't want to play with him, and we have to explain to him that it's not that Braylin doesn't want to play with him. It's just harder for Braylin to play with other kids.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020).

'Sometimes I feel like we give Braylin more attention than [Ethan and Devon], so we try to make an effort to spend quality time with both of our other kids, so they don't feel left out or neglected.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020).

7. What kinds of support have been most helpful to you (family members, parent groups, neighbors, others)? How would you prioritize your family needs and the areas in which you feel that you need more assistance?

'One of the things that has been most helpful to me as a mom is a support group for mothers with a child on the spectrum. To be able to get together with other guys experiencing some of the same issues/frustrations/feelings that I am is a big help.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020). 'I found a lot of comfort and support from a friend of a friend. Her son is on the lower end of the spectrum, but it has still been such a blessing to talk to her and vent, get advice, and share resources with each other. I also think that both my and Jerome's parents have been a huge help; they know how to handle Braylin and how to interpret what he wants/needs, and they will stay with him if Jerome and I go out or need a break.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020).

8. What have been your experiences in working with school personnel? What have they done that has been most helpful? What have they done that was least helpful or even harmful?

'The teachers that Braylin has had so far have been great. Each of them has worked with us to figure out how to use Braylin's strengths to his advantage while developing a plan to improve his weaknesses. The communication between Braylin's teachers and Jerome and I has been one of the most helpful things; Braylin's first-grade teacher would send home a note every day—the note would either celebrate something positive that Braylin did or make a note of something that Braylin could work on. It kept Jerome and me in the loop and made it easier for us to help Braylin improve his more 'negative' behaviors.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020).

9. How could the school help your child transition to adulthood?

'It's still a long way off, but one of the things that Peyton and I still worry about is Braylin's level of independence in the future. We will be there for him as much as he needs us to be, but we would love to see him go to college, get a job, and maybe live on his own; of course, we don't expect him to accomplish these goals in the same way as a child without autism, but we still want great things for him. Helping Braylin develop a plan where he works on the skills he will need to do those things would be a big help.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020).

10. If I were to be Braylin's teacher next year, what advice would you want to give me so that he has an optimal learning experience?

'Braylin communicates best through visual methods, so my advice would be to come up with a unique system that you could use to talk to him. I would also suggest seating Braylin in a spot where he is close to the front of the room but also near your desk; he can get a little distracted sometimes, so it would benefit both you and Braylin if he were seated in a location where he is less prone to distractions. You could redirect him when necessary.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020).

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11. What would you want me to do/not do in terms of my interactions with you if I were Braylin's teacher?

'I would tell you to trust the judgment of your students' parents. We have been lucky with Braylin's teachers so far, but we had seen some of our friends go through experiences with teachers who felt that he/she knew best and did the bare minimum when it came to involving them.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020).

'I would add that when it comes to communication with a student's parents, more is more. One of the best things that Braylin's teachers have done is to send home daily updates on his strengths/weaknesses. Parents like to know when their child is having a good day and what might cause them to have a bad day/an outburst.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020).

12. I am just learning about students with disabilities and how to work effectively with them in my classroom. What other information would you like me—and my classmates to know about working with children with special needs?

'Exercise patience and compassion for those children; they have the same basic needs as their 'regular' classmates. They just need a bit more TLC to help them accomplish their goals. I think another important thing to remember is that you won't get it right at first; when Braylin first started school, it took a few weeks for his teachers to learn his quirks and his likes/dislikes. (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020).

'Don't put limits on children with special needs. I think sometimes there is a misconception that kids with disabilities are incapable of achieving the same goals as their 'regular' classmates, and that is just not true; sure, they may need a little extra help and time to get there, but they will get there.' (Mallett, K., personal communication, 2020).

Summary of Research-Based Strategies

After speaking with Kim and Jerome about learning what has worked for Braylin in school, I have been able to get an idea of what teaching strategies I would like to use in my future classroom. The three strategies that I feel would be most effective for teaching students like Braylin, who are on the spectrum, include explicit teaching, structured teaching, and scaffolding.

Explicit Teaching: Explicit teaching is defined in our textbook as '[i]nstruction that involves using language that is both precise and concise, giving clear examples of what is to be learned, and providing schema that shows the organization of ideas to be learned ' (Kirk, et al., 2015, p. 6-6b). I can implement explicit teaching by keeping instructions short and using language that avoids ambiguity. For example, when developing instructions for a science project, I would indicate the materials needed, a concrete list of procedures that students should follow, and a rubric that outlines the criteria used to grade the project.

Structured Teaching: Structured teaching is an example of an evidence-based practice for educating students on the Autism spectrum. Our textbook notes that '[m]any children with autism need structure and order so that they can proceed academically,' and having a visual schedule that outlines what is coming next provides that needed structure. (Kirk, et al., 2015, p.5-6b). According to an article written by Park and Kim, 'TEACCH structured teaching has been demonstrated to be effective at enhancing independent performance in numerous studies that found that it increased engagement…and reduced problem behaviors…in educational settings' (2018, p. 344). There are several ways that this strategy can be implemented. Some students will do best with visual schedules, while others will thrive when a schedule is presented using language; students' IEP and communication with their parents will help determine what method will work best for a particular student.

Scaffolding: Scaffolding is defined as a definitive strategy where a teacher models the expected behavior that guides the learning of a student and guides the learning of the student' (Kirk, et al., 2015, p. 4-6b). This strategy is typically executed by having the teacher be heavily involved in the essential aspects of a lesson and gradually giving students more responsibility. For example, when my students complete a book report, I will show them a sample report and walk them through the steps needed to find the required information. The next day, however, I might have the students start by working independently and only jump in if they hit an insurmountable roadblock.

I believe the strategies listed would be useful for children with autism because each strategy plays to an autistic child's strengths. Explicit teaching is effective because it removes ambiguity and provides students with clear expectations. At the same time, it is listed as a strategy for teaching students with learning disabilities. I think that children on the spectrum would also benefit from concise, explicit instruction. Structured teaching is useful because it gives children on the spectrum a sense of security, and as our textbook mentions, '[a] daily schedule and a consistent environment are critical for a child with autism to feel secure' (Kirk, et al., 2015, p. 5-6b). Finally, scaffolding can help children on the spectrum grasp a lesson by having it modeled for them while also teaching them how to operate independently.

Conclusion – Reflection and Discussion

After conducting my interview with Braylin's parents and observing children with autism at a local Y center, I feel that I have a much better understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As someone who is just starting in the field of education, there is still much to learn, especially when it comes to educating children with exceptionalities. I don't think that I realized how subtle the characteristics of ASD could be until I observed children on the lower end of the spectrum at a local Y; similarly, it was eye-opening for me to see how Mr. and Mrs. Mallett

Something that I will take away from this interview, and from this course as a whole, is the impact that communication and dedication have on a child's success in the classroom. It will not be enough for me to simply show up every day and teach my students—if I want them to truly succeed, I will need to go above and beyond to implement strategies that incorporate their strengths and build upon their weaknesses. I will also need to be mindful of the amount of communication I need to have with the parents. Communication is an integral part of teaching, but it becomes much more critical when that communication has to do with a child's progress with an exceptionality or a change that needs to be made to a child's IEP.


    1. Kirk, S., Gallagher, J., & Coleman, M. (2015). Educating Exceptional Children (14th ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage.
    2. Park, I., & Kim, Y. (2018). Effects of TEACCH structured teaching on independent work skills among individuals with severe disabilities. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 53(4), 343-352.
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