Imagine raising your child as a beautiful, scenic, adventurous road trip. Destination: adulthood. Once there, your child may engage in a number of different activities — leisure, community engagement, college, trade school, employment, supported employment. The key to a successful trip is to sustain high expectations for your child so they have as many options as possible once they’ve arrived. Which opportunities does your child need during their journey to learn the skills necessary for living a meaningful, fulfilling, self-directed life? What beliefs and barriers will need to be removed to provide your child with the most dynamic path?

You have mapped out 13 stops along the way — grades K–12. Your child will need to develop important skills at each of these stops. At each stop, the IEP team joins you until you arrive at the next one. Some of these team members ride along to several stops with you; others are there for just one. At each stop, you and the team identify strengths, set goals, and determine the barriers to learning and the types of services and supports needed to get to the next stop, and ultimately the final destination. What are the most important skills your child will need as an adult? How can the goals set at each stop along the way build off of one another so that your child can be successful? What barriers exist that inhibit learning? When barriers are identified, what alternative routes can you provide so that your child is able to reach the same destination or achieve the desired goal? At first, your child takes a more passive role in the planning process, but as they grow, you and the team rely on their input to help determine the plan. In doing so, you send the message that your child’s voice matters, that they are valued, and that they are capable.

Seeing the IEP process as a series of stops on the way to a meaningful, fulfilling, self-directed life will help the IEP team consider each IEP annual goal and objective as a stepping stone, and each service and support as a guidepost. When you sit down to prepare for your child’s IEP (or to write an introductory letter about your child to their teachers), take time to write a few sentences about your hopes for your child and what you believe they can achieve. What are their lifelong objectives? Once you’ve identified the opportunities you’d like for them to work toward, think about what goals you’d like to focus on this year. How can you build an IEP that will support your child in achieving and building toward those goals? When the team takes the time to envision and reflect on your collective hopes for your child, it makes the IEP more than just a document, but a tool for optimizing a child’s success and life outcomes. (Learn more about creating strength-based IEPs here.)

 


  What is a vision statement and how do I create one?

“A vision statement is what we want out of life for our child and what our child wants out of life,” says Dr. Caitlin Solone, education advocate, teacher educator, and faculty at UCLA. Unfortunately, vision statements are not automatically included in IEPs; in fact, Dr. Solone has never seen them included in any California school district, which is all the more reason for us to advocate for their inclusion. If vision statements were incorporated into every child’s IEP template, we as parents would have a new way to communicate goals to the IEP team and receive more effective support. As one parent put it, a vision statement represents a “stepping stone to a successful life.” Vision statements can also serve as an introductory letter for your child's teachers and providers!

Begin creating a powerful vision statement with this template. (You'll need to make your own copy of this document in order to write on the template, so click "File" and then select "Make a copy" from the drop-down menu.) When you’re writing your statement, consider using these kinds of phrases:

  • Obtain meaningful employment
     
  • Volunteer in the community
     
  • Take part in meaningful social activities
     
  • Develop meaningful friendships
     
  • Pursue post-secondary educational opportunities
     

“Establishing a vision statement early [in a child’s life] helps the IEP team stay grounded in what matters and the destination where you and your child want to go,” Dr. Solone said. Transition plans later in a child’s school career often include similar ideas as a vision statement, but as Dr. Solone tells us, this “transition period” really starts before kindergarten, because K–12 education in its entirety helps students transition into adulthood.
 

 

  • If your child’s school does not include a vision statement in their IEP, you can request that it go into the parent comment section or addendum, or be added as its own section. Dr. Solone recommends asking your child’s IEP team if they’d like to collaborate on the vision statement with you, but it’s perfectly acceptable to write it on your own if there is resistance from the team.
     
  • Practice writing a vision statement before your next IEP meeting.
     
    • Write at least one goal you would like your child to work on in the coming year that will help you reach the end goal you envision for your child.

 


 Try this visualization exercise

When you need inspiration for your child’s vision statement, follow Dr. Solone’s instructions in this video.

  • During our IEP explorations with Dr. Solone, one parent visualized her son picking up his backpack and happily going to school without fear of bullying, shaming, or being left out.
     
  • Think of one word that describes how you want others to view your child. Multiple parents said they wanted their child to be seen as capable, independent, and happy,  as well as creative, artistic, imaginative, and kind.

 

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