If you are reading this post, then you know the heartbreak that a parent feels when their child struggles in school. Every child struggles now and then, but if your child struggles daily you are probably searching for ways to help them. Some children struggle with a certain subject, while other children struggle with classwork in general. Some of our children are fine academically, but struggle with the social aspects of school, or what some people refer to as the hidden curriculum (more about that later). No parent wants their child to struggle daily at school, but many of us are at a loss for what to do.
I am parent of a child with special educational needs and a special education teacher myself. I have personally experienced success and failure in trying to get help for my child. It is not always easy to get the help your child needs, but I can guarantee that if you stick it out, advocating for your child is definitely worth the fight. I have found the following ideas to be successful ways to help your child that struggles:
- Start by communicating your concerns directly to the teacher. Make an appointment to meet with them, or ask them to call you during a mutually good time. Tell them exactly what is concerning to you, fill them in on any past successes and failures at school, and ask them to observe your child and report back to you what they think may be the problem.
- Come up with a plan of action. Ask for a meeting with the teacher and the pre-referral team at your child’s school. All schools have this, but they all call it something different (Child Study Team, Teacher Assistance Team, Instructional Support Team). This team meets to discuss struggling students and make suggestions for ways to assist the student in the classroom. This is NOT special education. Any struggling student can get help this way. The team will write a plan of action and then meet back in 4 to 6 weeks to discuss success or failure of the plan.
- Refer your child for an educational evaluation. Write a letter asking for your child to be evaluated for eligibility for special education. Be specific in your letter about what you suspect may be the problem and what kinds of testing you want done. (For example: Please evaluate our child for a suspected specific learning disability in reading. Please complete a full educational assessment, including reading ability testing.) The school will have to contact you with in 5 days to confirm your request and start testing within 30 days. You will receive the results at a meeting that must take place within 45 days of your request.
- Take an active role in planning for your child’s educational needs. You need to be aware of your rights as a parent and your child’s rights to receive a free and appropriate public education. As the parent, you should be included in every decision and your opinions should weigh as much as any other team members. However, many sped teams will not automatically treat you this way. You will need to speak up at meetings, ask questions, research the options on your own, and make your opinions known.
- Get an outside evaluation done if you disagree with the school’s testing. You may or may not have to pay for this testing yourself. Tell the school right away that you are not satisfied with the testing they did. Put it in writing and explain why you are unsatisfied. Ask the school about the districts policy for getting the testing paid for by them. Find a reputable educational testing facility (most pediatricians can recommend someone) to test your child. Once you get the results, you must give a copy to the school if you want them to consider the results. The law states that they have to consider the findings as valid unless they can prove they are not.
- Be reasonable and professional when you are communicating with the school staff. Do not yell, use profanity, write insulting emails/notes, make unfounded accusations, or get overly emotional. Try not to over communicate, teachers will not be able to call or email you everyday (they may have over 20 students in their class).