In my last blog post, I discussed how classrooms can be more welcoming and accepting of children with disabilities or unique needs, by implementing certain strategies that can help students succeed. In this post, I shift my attention to parents and discuss their role in helping their child thrive at school. This is an issue that hits close to home, as we are raising our first granddaughter, who happens to have a neurological disability. Similarly, our now adult son struggled with special needs in the classroom when he was young, also due to a disability. I am well aware of the challenges parents can face when it comes to their child’s education. My hope is that this article will help to point you in the right direction to find the resources you need for your emotionally or behaviorally challenged child.
Know the Law
Federal law states that children with disabilities are entitled to certain rights. These rights are outlined in a few different legal acts that address the additional services and accommodations that schools must provide to children with special needs. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basics of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Essentially, these acts offer protection from discrimination against individuals with disabilities and provide assistance to those with disabilities through programs, services, and accommodations. For example, Section 504 of the Rehab Act covers all “programs or activities, whether public or private, that receive any federal financial assistance. Reasonable accommodations include untimed tests, sitting in front of the class, modified homework and the provision of necessary services” (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry).
If you feel that your child has not been provided adequate assistance in his learning environment, it’s a good idea to get acquainted with the laws that govern your child’s education. Request a copy of your school district’s Section 504 plan to make sure your school is complying with the outlined standards.
Request an Evaluation
If you’re unsure if your child qualifies for special programs or services, approach your school with a request for a formal evaluation. The evaluation may be conducted by the school or by an independent professional evaluator. Parents may not know that they can request an evaluation by an outside professional, but it is within your rights to ask for this service.
As a parent, be sure to take an active role in the evaluation. Keep notes on your child’s behavior and be fastidious about filing away any communications you receive from the school regarding your child’s conduct. Retain emails and make clear notes on phone calls as to caller, date, and topics covered. Such records may come in handy as you continue to work with your school and district.
Develop an IEP
Children with certain disabilities are qualified to receive an Individualized Education Plan or IEP. The purpose of this plan is to outline your child’s unique and individualized learning needs, the services the school will provide, and how progress will be measured. It ensures that the education your child receives corresponds to their learning capacity.
As a parent, it is your right to be involved in the process of creating an IEP. Usually, a team of professionals spearheads the process, but your input is valuable in creating a personalized program for your child’s education. Although developing an IEP can take quite a bit of time and dedication, it is a great way to talk candidly about your child’s needs and help others (as well as yourself!) recognize their strengths and weaknesses. This is a key strategy for success and should not be rushed.
You also have the right to disagree with IEP-related recommendations made by the school or district and request a mediation or conciliation process to work through differences. Pacer is an organization located in Minneapolis that supports families of children and young adults with disabilities across the U.S.
Build Relationships with Teachers
It’s important to be active and involved in your child’s school. Get to know his teachers and the support staff (paraprofessionals, therapists, counselors, school admin) that may work with him. Recognize that educators have a tough job (and many students for which they are responsible) and offer support whenever you can. That support might come in the form of helping your child with his nightly homework, participating in monthly progress meetings with the teacher, or reinforcing the teacher’s classroom rules by explaining them to your child.
Support Your Child
Most importantly, offer your child constant support as she goes through school. Be there to answer questions, give homework help (without giving the answers!), and offer encouragement. Be an advocate for your child so that she has the best possible learning environment available to her. Encourage a love of learning and discovery outside the classroom by taking your child to science museums, exploring and talking about the great outdoors, reading books together, or watching informative T.V. programs and discussing them.
Recognize that your child may not always behave properly and may cause trouble at school. When instances do crop up, make an effort to have an honest conversation with your child and create an action plan to deal with challenges in a more positive manner.
Your child with special needs is a valuable human being and deserves the best possible chance to receive a quality education. It will take time and effort to familiarize yourself with all the resources available—and you may get frustrated and overwhelmed at times—but your dedication is important. Remember that every day you have a chance to make a positive difference in your child’s life. Keep at it! Your devotion means the world to your young student.
Let’s continue the conversation! Reach out and get in touch with me today.