How to Prepare for Your Child’s IFSP to IEP Transition

So, your child is transitioning from their Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)? Congratulations! This can be a significant milestone for children and families. While the planned change may come with some uncertainty, the major life events that accompany and necessitate the change are exciting! Your little one is growing up and moving to the next phase of their young life. Let’s talk about a few things you can expect and some ideas to help prepare you and your child for their transition from an Early Intervention service model to services in a preschool and kindergarten setting with their brand-new Individualized Education Plan (IEP). 

WHY Does the Plan Need to Change?

You may have heard of a federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which governs how public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and other services to children of all ages who qualify. You can get into the nitty-gritty of the law here; in summary, your child who is blind or has low vision qualifies for services, and the law tries to capture the best developmental windows for your child to transition into another tier of services and continue to make and meet appropriate educational and developmental goals. 

WHAT Will Change?

  • The location of most services will likely shift, but some outside services may stay the same. Your child may have been receiving services at home, or maybe they were seen at daycare, or both! Most services occur on the school campus in preschool, Kindergarten, and beyond. 
  • The focus of instruction will broaden. During the Early Intervention years, instruction is usually centered around your little one’s participation and inclusion in family routines. Once they have transitioned into preschool and kindergarten, instructional goals must shift to include strategies that promote your little child’s participation in the classroom and access to the curriculum. But don’t worry! All the awesome elements of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) remain priority goals.
  • Some of your child’s instructors and providers will change. They will have a whole new team of people eager to support you and your child through the transition process and the beginning of their formal educational career. Some Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (TVIs) work with kids from birth through graduation, so check with your child’s TVI to see if they are specific to Early Intervention. Other therapists on your child’s team may also remain – ask each provider if you’re unsure! 

WHEN Do I Need to Start Preparing?

About six months before your child’s third birthday is a good time to start preparing for your little one’s upcoming transition. Depending on your child’s current team of providers, they may help start this ball rolling for you or at least provide a resource to consult with. Here are a few things that need to find their way onto the calendar BEFORE your child’s third birthday:

  • A Functional Vision Assessment (FVA). Discuss with your child’s Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) about conducting a formal FVA. This evaluation helps determine how your child uses their vision to perform daily tasks and is different from an eye exam with the eye doctor. A TVI will interact with your child in various ways to gather information on visual acuity in different conditions, contrast sensitivity, visual fields in various conditions, visual tracking, and visual perception. The information gathered during the assessment will be used to recommend specific interventions and accommodations that may benefit your child’s learning journey based on their strengths and challenges in vision use. 
  • A Learning Media Assessment (LMA). Your friendly neighborhood TVI is also an invaluable resource for this assessment! A formal LMA will help determine the best methods and mediums for your child to access information and learn, such as Braille, large print, audio, or a combination. An Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist may also be involved in the assessment. These specialists may then provide appropriate recommendations to the IEP team regarding additional services, accommodations, and assistive technology that may benefit your child at school and home. 
  • The IEP Meeting. The responsibility of scheduling the IEP meeting may vary depending on the state or school district where you live. In some cases, the early intervention team may schedule the meeting; in other cases, the school district may take the lead in scheduling and conducting the meeting. As your child’s primary advocate, you always have the right to request an IEP meeting when concerned about your child’s progress or needs. In this case, the need to get their first IEP in place is the reason to contact your child’s early intervention team or the special education department of your local district to get a meeting on the books so plans, services, and equipment are ready to roll on that first day of school. 

HOW Do I Prepare My Child?

  • Practice independence! Keep encouraging your little one to participate as much as possible in everyday tasks. At school, your child will have many opportunities to practice independence in all areas of life – from bathroom breaks to keeping track of their jacket to opening a ketchup packet – work on passing the baton of responsibility one activity at a time. Take time to build their skills at home with fasteners (on pants, jackets, shoes, and bathroom stalls), opening various lunch items and containers (whether coming from home or presented to them from the cafeteria). Then, when that exciting first day of school finally arrives, your kiddo will hopefully feel a little more confident in their abilities to navigate the day without physical support from mom or dad. 
  • Develop orientation and mobility skills. Work with an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist to help orient your child to their new stomping grounds. Explore their classrooms and common areas, such as the library, office, and cafeteria. Cane use, mental mapping, and environmental and spatial awareness are all skills your child’s O&M Specialist may begin to introduce while your child learns to navigate their new campus.
  • Work on social skills! Help your little one practice turn-taking, sharing, asking for help if needed, politely declining help, and interacting with peers. Role-play scenarios and practice different possible peer interactions and situations to help your child develop confidence in upcoming social situations. Eye contact and non-verbal communication with gestures, body language, and facial expressions are all things that may need to be specifically explained, taught, and practiced with your little one who is blind or has low vision. 
  • Read! Read books to them about kids going to school for the first time. Engage them in braille or large print books to familiarize them with their expected reading medium. Create and use book boxes or even act them out and make it multi-sensory. Not only can this help your little one think through situations they may encounter at their new school, but it continues building their literacy skills, which is always a huge plus!
  • Establish a routine. If you haven’t already, establish a daily routine for your child that includes consistent meal times, naps, and playtime. Consider starting your day around when their new school day will start. Then, wake-up and nap times can be seamlessly integrated into the new school routine when it’s time and not be another change when they start going about their busy new schedule!
  • Meet with the school. You and members of your child’s educational team will hold the IEP meeting you scheduled a few months ago. You will meet with representatives and providers from the new school your child will be attending to discuss their needs and create an official plan for the accommodations and supports your child’s needs. This can include things like specialized equipment, assistive technology, and trained staff and instructors, and is based on the recommendations of all the assessments you took the time to schedule ahead of time. Way to go!

Be Proactive!

It is important to note that every child’s transition out of the IFSP will be unique, and the process may require additional steps or modifications to meet your child’s individual needs. Be proactive as you prepare your child for their new experiences, advocate for their needs, and collaborate with service providers. Feel good that you have done all you can to ensure a successful transition for your child!

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