Aligning IEP Goals with a Child's Learning Style

Every child has a unique style of learning and process for completing tasks. These styles encompass how children access, retain and comprehend new material as well as how they break down tasks for completion. For children with learning disabilities, taking these learning style preferences into account can be a game changer in removing barriers to learning. A good IEP should build on the child’s natural strengths and incorporate accommodations to anticipate known needs for an optimal learning environment. Parents, therefore, must be aware of their child’s strengths and needs in order to collaborate with the school team to create targeted accommodations on your child's behalf.

Scheduling Accommodations

Students may exhibit varying energy levels during the day. Some students have periods where their focus is stronger than other times. If the child’s team can identify this pattern, class schedules can be arranged so that more difficult classes fall during this high-focus time, while other, less focused times of the day could be break times or classes that are more hands-on. This priority scheduling provides the student the best opportunity for success in difficult academic classes by matching them to their natural learning times.

Similarly, some children may have low energy levels early in the day and become more alert as the day progresses. In this instance, service therapies, like Occupation or Physical Therapy, should be scheduled early in the day to provide stimulation and 1:1 time which may be preferable to children as they become acclimated to the school routine. In contrast, a child with high energy levels in the morning may be better served by having their most challenging work at this time and a physical activity reward such as 1 minute of scooter time or 10 minutes jumping on a trampoline as a "brain break". Above all, keeping the strengths and needs of the child in mind and having the flexibility to experiment with different solutions to learn what accommodations work best is going to greatly serve the child.

Testing Accommodations

A client recently mentioned her child was able to verbally respond to test questions with strong success rates when questions were read aloud, but when faced with a paper and pencil test, she became overwhelmed and intimidated because her learning disability centered around reading deficits and processing, test anxiety. In this case, appropriate IEP accommodations could be put in place to address the need for tests to be read aloud and the child to respond verbally to show what she has learned about the material being tested. This minor accommodation allows her to showcases her strengths and show her true academic achievement while also improving her confidence through success.

Other testing accommodations are also possible to provide your child the best opportunity to show what they know. Exams can be taken in separate locations from the classroom to reduce anxiety and provide a quiet work environment. Test formats can be abbreviated to address a child's slower processing speed, enabling them to complete the test in a timely manner, while still exhibiting her comprehension of the material. When advocating in this way, the goal is to think of the child's strengths and capitalize on how the team can optimize the resources available to support the whole child.

Pro-Tip: Parents should share their insights with the team regarding their child's unique learning style and advocate for both learning and testing accommodations to promote their child's success. While grades and learning will always be a benchmark, so too will healthy levels of self esteem. Offering a

child with a disability the opportunity to exhibit their knowledge in the manner

that is most conducive to their individual needs is best practice and can make a powerful impact on how a child thinks of himself as a learner, student, and class member.

Other Common Accommodations

Pace and consistency may be different for a child with special needs. For example, the child who with an Autism Spectrum Disorder who does not willingly participate during certain times of the day may benefit from scheduled opportunities to have physical movement as part of her schedule to increase energy levels. When the team agrees an accommodation of this variety be offered, the child's need for breaks is not viewed as problematic but as a planned activity and can make educational decisions in the best interest of the child. By including the opportunity for stimulation in the IEP, the school embraces her physical well being, plans for instruction around the break, and interruptions to instruction are decreased.

Students might also need flexible seating options to enable better access to material being taught or opportunities to get out of their seats during class time without interrupting other students. Some students have difficulty remaining still for a full class period, but with planning their seating assignments may provide them a location where they can alleviate their physical need to move without interrupting the other students while still being engaged in the class.

Some children may need to glance around the room to remain alert. While it may appear the child is not paying attention as the teacher leads the lesson, this is actually a variation in their learning style. Rather than requiring the student to always look at the teacher, acknowledging the student needs the flexibility to glance around the room will respect the child’s needs. This unique style of her learning can be documented in the IEP accommodations so her team is aware of this nuance and teachers understand her individual needs.

Creating Better Outcomes

A child receiving access to appropriate services, accommodations and modifications also benefits from a developmental standpoint. When the child with differences is accepted and even embraced instead of ignored and denied, the child will develop self confidence that they can succeed and an acceptance of their unique qualities. He will attempt challenges more readily, feel pride in accomplishments and be more internally motivated to put effort toward whatever is being offered. IEP teams choosing to target a child's strengths and accommodate learning differences ensures his access to education while building his self-belief as a capable and confident individual who can make positive and healthy choices to live a fulfilling life. Tailored programs also have an additional side benefit for the service team as their work becomes less complicated when a child is motivated to attempt work rather than be frustrated and actively avoid it.

Observing the whole child, acknowledging the different characteristics present and providing instruction that complements a different learning style is integral to respecting the child's needs. When curriculum is offered in a manner conducive to her learning she will be able to access information more easily than if her learning style is not taken into account. She will experience less frustration and will perceive herself as a learner more easily. Tailored instructional delivery builds the relationship between the child and teacher because it demonstrates acceptance and understanding for a child who would be less successful with only traditional methods. When a child believes the teacher (parent, staff member, outside coach) cares, they will put forth more effort and have greater confidence to attempt difficult tasks and gain skills. This adaptive style of teaching enables children to reach higher levels of achievement than could be met if their needs were ignored. By acknowledging an individual child's style, and by utilizing current performance data, strong teams can plan ways to optimize the child's learning by documenting specific learning nuances and directing how teachers and school service providers will provide instruction. This is how an IEP can ensure a child has access to a free and appropriate public school education.

All children are different, and our children with IEP's present with challenges and strengths as well. When children are seen and educated for the individual learners they are, solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems are easily found. Many solutions were there all along if we pay attention to the child and plan accordingly. Understanding and programming for the needs of children with IEP's has a life changing impact providing years of great growth, achievements and mental well-being for our children.

Have you experienced a child who flourished once his learning needs were embraced? Please write in the comment section below, and share your story! I would love to hear from you!!!!

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