Differently-abled children often need unique services and programs to thrive in the learning environment. Special education programs help children with mental, physical, social and emotional delays to get the help they need in school. Although services may vary by state or school district, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that all children with disabilities receive adequate services and resources to succeed.
There’s a lot to think about when you’re planning special education for your child with special needs. These five tips from moms who have been there may help keep you on the right track.
1. Do your homework
- Realize that the school might not mention all of the services that are available for your child. You may have to do your own research.
- Talk to other parents. Join support groups for parents of children with special needs.
- Read as much as you can and decide what works best for your child. Here are some great resources:
- Accurate, reliable information about special education law, education law, and advocacy for children with disabilities
- Content and tools to help your child learn and grow with resources on learning disabilities, choosing a school, tips on Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and more
- Think College
- Dedicated to developing, expanding, and improving inclusive higher education options for people with intellectual disability
2. Know your Individual Education Plan (IEP)
- Request reports and drafts of the plan a few days before the IEP meeting.
- Don’t sign the IEP at the meeting: take it home and read it and the meeting transcripts to make sure you agree with everything first.
- Make sure the plan provides everything your child needs in the least restrictive environment possible.
- Ask questions. If something in the IEP is not clear or doesn’t seem to meet your child’s needs, bring it up.
3. Be prepared for IEP meetings
- Be emotionally prepared: find an outlet before IEP meetings so you can go into the meeting with a level head.
- Talk it out with a friend or family member, or connect with other parents online.
- Record meetings (you may need to give advance notice). There shouldn’t be anything discussed in the meeting that can’t be repeated!
- Before the meeting ends, read the notes back and make any corrections on the spot.
- Don’t be discouraged by negative reactions to your requests: keep on smiling and be persistent!
- Don’t rely solely on the IEP team; they are on your side but you are the only one who truly knows if your child is getting what she needs.
- Be prepared to go the extra mile – as a parent, you will fight harder and be a better advocate for your child than anyone else.
4. Get help
- You are the best advocate for your child but you need an advocate too!
- Hire an advocate to find out what services are available for your child: someone who has experience with special education.
- Start a Special Needs Parent Teacher Association (PTA) in your district.
5. Think long-term
- Start the process at an early age. Early intervention is key to making the most out of your child’s special education.
- Live like you are preparing for a hearing, so you won’t have to go to one.
- If high school graduation is a goal for your child, make sure the program puts her on a track to get there.
Click here for more helpful links and resources for families of children with special needs.