Trying to figure out the special education system in your school district can be a full-time job. One thing I learned early on as a parent with a child with special needs is that if you don’t advocate and ask for help, then your child may not receive the accommodations that will make classroom functioning possible. In many cases, by the time that your teacher suspects learning difficulties, critical years of remediation have been lost.
As a Special Education Teacher, Educational Consultant, and Executive Functioning Coach, I’m exposed to the many sides of special education… sometimes all in one day! If I can offer just one piece of advice: DON’T WAIT. If you are noticing that your child is struggling to identify letters and their sounds consistently, is reversing letters and numbers, speak to your child’s teacher. Consult with a Psychologist with specialty in education. Ask questions. Request accommodations based on what you are doing at home that is helpful. Share your child’s struggles at home with homework or meltdowns about going to school if your teacher doesn’t see this.
This will require you to advocate for your child. What does this mean? According to Dictionary.com, advocating is defined as, “to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly.”
Let’s discuss a few places to begin in advocating for your child:
Know your child’s strengths, their attention issues and specific learning challenges so that you can communicate their needs effectively to the school and you and his teachers can find the best way to support his needs.
Build a partnership with your child’s Teacher, Principal, School Nurse, and Guidance Counselor. and any other staff members that work with your child. Keep the lines of communication open and e-mail, call or write a note if you a have a question or concern, remember you are part of the team too. Also, take into consideration any positive or negative comments the school has to say about your child and always be curious.
Talk to your child about school. Look over her assignments and quizzes. Ask simple questions like, “What is easy to do each day?” or “Which subject do you wish you had only once a week instead of every day?” Carefully consider their answers. You can also teach your child lingo so that he can self- advocate for himself if he doesn’t understand a particular concept in school.
Teach your child to advocate for his/herself. If your child is in High School or College, she can begin to advocate for herself. Once your child enters into middle school, you can request for your child to participate in IEP meetings and Parent-Teacher meetings so he can hear what you are hearing. You can play a big role in helping him learn how to do this by helping him come up with a plan, role playing and/or assisting with writing an e-mail to his teacher.
Know Your Rights. If your child has a 504 Accommodation Plan or an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), you must become familiar with the process in order to effectively advocate for your child. (Click here to access NJ Special Education Code).
An IEP is a personalized education plan that takes into account a child’s specific needs and can offer special education programs (e.g., In Class Resource, Out of Class Resource) and related services (e.g., counseling, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy). Your Child Study Team (CST) is composed of a Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant (LDTC), Social Worker, and School Psychologist. This is the team that performs your initial evaluations and determines eligibility.
A 504 Accommodation Plan is designed to provide accommodations tostudents with physical or mental impairments in public schools, or publicly funded private schools. These 504 plans legally ensure that students will be treated fairly at school.
Know that you are your child’s best advocate as you know her profile better than anyone, and you know it across all domains (home and school). Schedule follow up meetings and review your child’s progress consistently throughout the school year, perhaps once per month or once every two months.