Navigating Special Education in the School Setting: What Parents Need To Know

Child Guide Magazine is a great source for information and to find fun activities! Milestones & Miracles is proud to team with this great FREE publication by writing a column geared toward the Special Needs/Differently Abled Population.  The article below is our contribution to the FALL 2013 Issue which is filled with great “Back To School” Information. Grab yours today or view online at: http://issuu.com/childguidemagazine/docs/septoct2013cgweb

 

Are you a visual learner or auditory learner? Do you learn best by actually doing? Do you need a quiet room to retain what you are reading? Each one of us learns in unique ways. Many good teachers recognize learning styles, strengths, & challenges and accommodate the children within their classrooms. But what happens when simple modifications aren’t enough? Some children need additional supports and services to make the educational experience a positive one. And while learning about and implementing those services can seem very intimidating for parents, the process does not have to be.

Students 3 years of age and older that need supports and services in the public school setting receive them under Part B of the Individual’s With Disabilities Act (IDEA). This is a Federal Law that ensures special education services. If you are having concerns that typical classroom strategies are not meeting your child’s needs, speak to his/her teacher early. Sometimes, simple changes to a daily routine (such as changing seat location or providing a check list to stay on task) can make a huge difference.

If simple changes are not adequate, you or your child’s teacher may request testing to further identify strengths and challenges. The results of testing are reviewed at an eligibility meeting, usually held at the school, with parents, teachers, and other professionals (therapists, coordinators etc.) in attendance. If your child is found eligible for special education services, you can consent to move forward with an Individualized Education Plan or IEP. Parents, teachers, and others who have knowledge of your child’s specific needs such as therapists, nurses, psychologists and other professionals help create the IEP. You can invite others who know your child well and might help with the process. An IEP is a legally binding document that includes specific goals for your child, services and frequency of those services to support goals, & any additional materials needed to support your child (examples include special classroom materials, customized seating, or communication devices).

The IEP serves as the “map” to guide your child through the educational journey. It must be reviewed yearly, but can be reviewed more frequently per your request as your child changes, progresses, or new challenges arise. It is important that parents understand IDEA and their child’s rights under it. Seek out the assistance of an IEP advocate (counties hire these individuals) and ask to schedule a meeting to learn more and review policies that protect your rights. Each state develops a policy that outlines procedures for defining child find (how the state finds children that need to be tested), eligibility, and services as well as outlining parents’ rights and responsibilities. Refer to your own state’s Department of Education for more information on your specific policy or for support on learning more about individuals and organizations that serve to support parents through special education.

It is also important to understand that the IEP serves to meet your child’s EDUCATIONAL needs vs. MEDICAL needs. For example, if a child with Cerebral Palsy has tight hamstrings and an atypical walking pattern but can get around the classroom efficiently and safely, he/she would benefit from physical therapy, but would be served in a therapy clinic vs. a school setting in most cases.

Someone who knows both sides of the special education world in the public school arena is Tracey Parks. Parks is a 5th grade teacher at Tomahawk Intermediate School in Hedgesville, WV. While she has taught students of all learning styles and abilities for 18 years, she has first hand experience being a parent navigating the IEP process with her 9 year-old daughter Jordyn. She offers these wonderful tips to parents:

• COMMUNICATION IS KEY: Communication early and often. Request a meeting with all teachers who will be interacting with your child very early in the year (before the first conference) to share what works best for your child. Use a simple communication journal (could even be on a number system, such as 1= good day). Teachers have little time to write daily lengthy notes, but sharing simple information daily can be helpful to both parent and teacher. Parents might also consider sharing important things daily such as deviations to sleep routines, digestive issues, changes at home, or illnesses as they might impact the child’s day.

YOUR CHILD NEEDS YOU TO SHOW UP: IEP meetings are your chance to learn about your child from the people who spend hours with him/her! Make arrangements if possible to be there so that you can listen and learn, share your opinion and ideas, and brainstorm as part of the team. Your participation shows your child’s team that you are sincere about working with them for the benefit of your child. If you can’t attend in person, request a phone conference.

• ASK QUESTIONS/MAKE SUGGESTIONS: Don’t be afraid to ask questions regarding your child’s education. A good teacher should be willing to take the time to explain and answer. An example is asking for a second set of books so you can help your child at home. If you know of something that benefits your child at home or in other settings, such as during private therapies, don’t hesitate to share with your child’s team.

• BE PATIENT & POSITIVE: Remember that teachers are responsible for many children besides yours. While your concern or question may be incredibly important to you, try to allow reasonable time for the teacher to respond. Go into meetings or conversations with a positive attitude. Your disposition can be contagious and can make these exchanges more productive and pleasant for both you and the teacher.

It is important for the success of each child that parents and professionals work together on common goals. Successful IEP’s do just that. While the process might seem daunting at first, it is important to remember that there are many people who care about your child and want to support you. Seek out their experience and help, lean on parents with similar experience, and keep yourself focused on your priority – your child being learning successfully!

 

 

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