For parents of children with disabilities, it is simple to become caught up in daily life, to see each day as a struggle requiring all of our effort and energy. Without a vision of our child's future, however, our efforts lack a target on which to focus. That is why IEPs have goals - in order to determine progress, we have to know progress toward what. Life, like IEPs needs goals so that we know where we want our child to be in three, five, ten or more years.
It is essential to schedule a block of time to prepare a vision statement. If it has been awhile since you really thought about the full range of possibilities for your child's future, then it may take some time to complete the vision statement. Make a list of what you want for her life - fulfillment, love, happiness, health, friendships, opportunities. Then consider how these will be realized in her life. Think about the following questions and envision how they will look in your child's life. Ask your child to answer these questions and learn what she wants for her life. If your child cannot answer some or all of these questions, then consider asking others who are close to her for their insights.
- What are your child's interests?
- What are her strengths?
- What is the nature of her disabilities?
- For a school-aged child, in what classroom environment would she like to be? (This does not have to be the kind of class she is in now, but where ideally you want to see her within the next three years. This is the vision that you hope will be created in your child's life, so nothing is off the table of possibilities, including true inclusion, where the proportion of students with disabilities to the class size is the same as naturally occurs in society.)
- For an adult or transitioning student, how will she be employed? (This can include self-employment, paid employment and volunteer work.)
- Where will she live and with whom, if anyone? (Home ownership, an apartment with a friend or support person, a group home, with family, etc.)
- What will her community look like? How and in what will she participate in the community? (Playing sports, engaging in the arts, joining a book club, belonging to a religious organization, etc.)
Write down your answers. Create a word picture of your child and her future. Include photos of your child doing something she enjoys or that shows her capabilities and strengths. Then print off copies or consider creating a PowerPoint® presentation to share the vision with the people who can help make the vision come true - teachers, therapists, the IEP team, family, friends, and service providers. Help them get to know your child as you know her, and not as someone defined by the label of her disability.
Review the vision statement before the annual IEP, IFSP or ISP meeting to keep the vision in mind when developing the next plan. Update as necessary and at least every 3-5 years. Ask your child for input and be supportive of her dreams, which will probably change over time, just as yours do. Include her dreams and goals in the vision for her future.