Making Sure Your Special Needs Child Gets the Education They Need

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The world of special education may appear to the uninitiated to be like a maze or learning a new language. When you see your child struggling academically, socially, or behaviorally, as a parent, you want to ensure that they receive the educational services they need to succeed in school and life. Every school district is unique when it comes to providing services for children with special needs. Some people are more likely to provide services, while others are less willing to do so or even acknowledge that they need them. The identification of special education and the provision of services are governed by federal and state laws; Districts, schools, and individual educators may occasionally misinterpret these laws. When it comes to the interpretation of the laws, it is essential to keep in mind that every school system has a law firm on their side. This may seem daunting as your child’s primary advocate; However, your child will receive the necessary services if you remain calm, conduct some research, document your concerns, and communicate with the school.

A parent/guardian, teacher, or pediatrician must make a referral before services are provided to determine whether an evaluation is required. The initial individual education plan (IEP) meeting should specifically outline the questions the IEP team wants answered and document the reason for the referral. During this initial meeting, it is essential for you to express your concerns because your input will influence what follows. In order to assess your child and determine the kind of services he or she requires, evaluations must be carried out by a variety of team members depending on the area(s) of concern. Data from Response to Intervention (RTI) is sometimes used by IEP teams in public schools due to recent changes to how learning disabilities are legally identified. Most of the time, this data tells you how well your child did with any interventions he or she had before the referral. Schools are allowed to use this kind of data because it provides a wealth of information about how the child responds to more intensive or frequent instruction. As a parent, you want to leave this meeting confident that your child will receive an appropriate evaluation that addresses your concerns and makes specific recommendations for your child’s school services.

After the evaluation process is finished, a second IEP meeting will be held to look over the results, figure out if your child qualifies for special education services, and figure out what services, if any, your child needs to get ahead in school. You should do the following to get ready for this meeting:

Prior to the meeting, insist on receiving written copies of the evaluation reports.
As you read through the reports, write down any points that stand out to you or cause you concern, as well as any questions you might have. You should ask for clarification on anything you need to know because reports can sometimes be filled with jargon that isn’t necessary for business purposes. No one expects you to have a degree in education in order to advocate for your child because each profession uses its own terminology.
After receiving the evaluation reports, you should request that the professionals who carried them out call you to go over the results and provide an explanation.
Bring any unanswered questions you have down on paper and bring them to the IEP meeting.
The team will assess the evaluation results and determine whether the child qualifies for special education services at the second IEP meeting. If your child is eligible for services, an individualized education program will be developed for him or her. Keep in mind that this program should be tailored to your child’s particular learning, social, or emotional needs. Among the questions to ask are:

What distinguishes that from the standard curriculum?
What steps will be taken to help my child catch up and be prepared for the next grade?
What individual accommodations and modifications will be made?
Who will determine how success or progress will be measured?
How frequently will I receive updates regarding my child’s progress?
Who will be in charge of the plan’s management?
How will my child’s needs be communicated to other teachers?
You can reasonably rest assured that the team will meet your child’s needs if they are able to answer these questions to your satisfaction. You will receive your child’s Individualized Education Plan five days after the meeting, so it is critical that you take notes during it. The services that the district has agreed to provide for your child are outlined in this legal document. The services described in this document ought to correspond to your understanding of the IEP meeting. Therefore, it is always beneficial to meticulously record these meetings. You should contact the school and speak with your child’s case manager over the phone (this will be written down in the IEP, usually on the first page), and you should ask for clarification on anything that doesn’t match what you wrote or heard at the meeting.

You have the option of requesting that the school provide RTI services, which frequently are already in place, will continue, and may be the reason why your child did not qualify for services, or you can request an independent evaluation if your child does not qualify for services but you are still very concerned that they require services in order to succeed. This independent evaluation is carried out by a professional who is not associated with the school district and is typically selected with your and the district’s mutual consent.

If the school doesn’t listen to me or doesn’t seem to understand my concerns, what should I do?

You have a few choices in this situation. Bring a digital recorder and record the IEP meetings as soon as possible. When the team is aware that they will be recorded, they typically speak with greater caution. These recordings should be copied. Second, you can speak with an educational consultant by calling your state department of education. The majority are eager to assist parents and respond to queries. You can get answers and information about how to get in touch with specific state and local agencies by calling a helpline in many states. You can contact an advocate or educational lawyer who will look over your concerns and the child’s records, give you advice, meet with you, and accompany you to IEP meetings. Even though this last option will cost you money, it can often be very helpful in the most dire situations.

Remember: You are your child’s best advocate and best source of information as a parent. She or he is counting on you to be her or his advocate when things get tough and to make sure she or he gets the right help to succeed.