Both as a parent of two special needs children and as a teacher, I am aware of all that can be done to assist your child so his needs are met in school. I know that several schools will not provide certain services and even get away with it because parents are often unaware of what can be done in school. Most schools won't promote their services for a reason or another, especially in the United States. In fact, you often read about the legal issues that parents must deal with in order for their children's special needs to be met in school.
Here are some tips that I have for you! Of course, each state may differ as the Canadian provinces and territories do regarding special needs children, but some if not all these steps can be followed and provide you all that you need for your child to grow and develop well in school.
- Research is the key. Do your homework by finding out all that is offered through the government and the types of funding available for children with special needs. You will be amazed. In our case, our social worker did not provide much information in this area. In fact, most services that we now have for our children were found through extensive research done by my husband.
- Inquire about what to expect at the IEP meeting. Most IEP meetings are generally the same but depending of your state or province, the expectations and the way the meeting goes may vary. Inquire about what you can expect to see happen during the IEP meeting. Usually, specialists like the resource teacher, the speech therapist, the physiotherapist and the occupational therapist will participate in the meeting as well as your social worker, the classroom teacher and the principal. In some cases, the teacher aid who will work with your child will also attend the meeting. The main goal "should" be the same -- your child's special needs and how the school intends to meet them. Some schools may focus on the budget but always keep in mind that, as your child's advocate, your child comes FIRST!
- Ask about the programs and resources that your child's future school offers him! My children's school offers various school initiated programs such as: Music therapy, bowling, Special Olympics, swimming and skating. These programs are offered to special needs children in order to help them develop their motor skills and musical skills. Their resources include a sensory room, special play structures as well as well-trained and experienced staff members. In our situation, this school used to be a cluster school where special needs children were sent so the staff is quite knowledgeable. They have dealt with Autism, which affects both our children, as well as other health issues, for years. Keep in mind that programs and resources vary from one school to another.
- "Evaluation" is the magic word! Before you even get involved in an IEP meeting, make sure that your child's needs were evaluated by specialists. Go to the IEP meeting with the written evaluation in hand. The evaluation of a child opens many doors, especially where funding is concerned.
- Prepare an evaluation of your own! Type and make copies of your child's needs -- enough for everyone in attendance; as meetings can be quite busy, you may forget important matters or run out of time so by having a detailed evaluation of your child's needs, it will be used for filling in the paperwork for the funding and also prevent oversights.
- Don't take anything for granted! In my experience as a teacher, I was forced to remain silent by my principal regarding a level 3 student. The school division was making cuts so they told the schools' administrators to be creative. Well, in my school, it meant that a level 3 student (receiving full-time funding) was cut off ½ time. The principal sold her (creative jargon) by telling the parents that such a change was made in order to promote their child's independence. The truth was that his funding was not cut and the money was used for someone else. Don't forget that many administrators think about their budget FIRST.
Fight for your child's needs, no matter what they say! If you follow these tips, you will help your child get the services he needs in school. Please, don't take "No!" as an answer. "Yes!" is in fact the option and the school's responsibility to ensure that your child's special needs come FIRST!