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How to Use the Summer Break to Your SPED Child’s Advantage

9 Jun

Summer is here, and so it the freedom that our child love so much.  Many of us worry that our child will lose all the gains they have made over the past school year during the long break (sometimes called a summer slide).  Some of our children do well with the structure school provides and struggle with too much free time over the summer.  If your child experienced a “summer slide” last year, you should ask your district to put your child in the summer program.  It is free,available to most children receiving sped services, and is usually only a few hours a week.  It may be too late this year, but keep it in mind for next year.

How can you make the summer break work to your child’s advantage?  I like to work on my child’s self esteem over the summer.  Try out different things until they find something they are good at or enjoy doing.  Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist at Harvard’s School of Education, has a theory of multiple intelligences.  Gardner’s theory  states that  humans have several different ways of learning, and some of us learn better when information is given to us in this way. Gardner says the ways we learn are through:  linguistic (language), logic-mathematical, musical, spatial (visual or artistically), bodily/kinesthetic (through body movement), interpersonal (through socializing with others) and intrapersonal (by oneself).  Try activating one of these areas in your child, let them discover where their abilities are.  Having a hobby will help your child feel successful and, when September comes, they will be refreshed and ready to start another year of school.  Here are some ideas for activating different areas of intelligence:

  • Find a social skills group or sensory gym for your child to go to over the summer.
  • Check out the resources available at your public library.  They may have a free summer program going and they usually offer free passes to area attractions.  Do a fun summer research project (let your child pick the topic) together, then take a related field trip.
  • Encourage your child’s sense of wonder by taking nature walks at a beach, lake, or park. Make a scavenger hunt they display what you’ve found in a box.
  • Build your child’s creative side.  Get some art supplies or go to a free concert in the park.  Research an artist and try to copy their style.  Try knitting or sewing.  Make a scrapbook, try your hand a photography, or sketching.
  • Give your child a journal to record their thoughts or sketch their feelings in.
  • Visit a local attraction and encourage your child to write a poem or story about it.  Offer to take dictation for them or let them record the story.
  • Find some fun math logic problems or riddle math problems to solve with your child.  Play board games that require problem solving.
  • Find some tennis, golf, or swimming lessons to keep your active child busy.
  • Let your child use the kitchen.  Pick a fun recipe or two to try out.  Plan a picnic or BBQ and let your child make the menu.  Have a bake sale for charity.
  • Build something together.  Make a fort, a bird house, or lemonade stand.
Even if your child doesn’t find an activity or hobby that inspires them, they will probably love the idea that not everyone is traditionally “smart” that some of us are “smart” in non-traditional ways!

 

My Child is Struggling in School… How Can I Help?

7 Jun

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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).

Does my child really need an IEP?

28 May

Does my child really need an IEP?

This is a question that many of us have wondered about. We worry that by allowing the school to give our children special education that they will be labeled and tracked for the rest of their school days.  We wonder if they will be denied by colleges if they see SPED on their records.  What will the other children think and say? As parents, we worry about the lasting effects of special education on our children.  Stereotyping, assumptions, bullying, and poor self-esteem are some of the negative things we hear about special education.  So you ask, “Is all of this worth allowing the school to put my child on an IEP?”  If you consider the benefits that your child may receive from being on an IEP, you may decide the answer to your question is yes.

What are the positives  if my child were put on an IEP?

While it is true that sometimes people make assumptions (or stereotype) children in special education, most educational professionals are aware that children with disabilities have strengths as well as their weaknesses.  When an IEP is written for your child, there will be a specific place where the team will write your child’s strengths.  These strengths will be reported by you, the teachers, and the specialists who tested your child.  The IEP should be designed to work off of your child’s areas of strength.  Without the IEP to guide them, many general education teachers may never get to the point where they even discover your child’s strengths because they are so focused on catching them up in their areas of weakness.   The weakness becomes the focal point for instruction, not your child’s strength.

Yes, it is also true that children in special education are victims of bullying.  However, in recent studies it has been found that 1 in 4 of all children are victims of bullying at some point in their childhood.  Bullying has become a hot topic in education now.  Schools are working on coming up with prevention plans for all children.  In Massachusetts, a bullying prevention law was recently passed in congress.  Because of the increase of inclusion programs for special education students, children are more accepting  of a child’s differences than they were in the past.  Children and adults with disabilities are no longer hidden away, they are involved in the school and general community.  While every parent should stay vigilant about bullying, I would not deny my child services because I thought they may get bullied.  There are ways to prevent and stop that problem if it were to occur.

While poor self-esteem is a definite concern for any child that struggles in school, giving a child help usually does not cause a child to have low self esteem.  In fact failing school or struggling with grade-level work is more likely to cause the low self-esteem of a child with learning disabilities.  Children are happy when they feel successful, when they are accomplishing their goals, and when they are not struggling.  Receiving more time from teachers, instruction that is at their level and tailored to build off their strengths will only help to raise the child’s self-esteem.  Another important consideration is that special education services are a matter of confidentiality.  It is not noted in a child’s permanent record or on their report cards that they are receiving special education services.  This information is kept in a separate file and not shared with staff that does not work directly with your child.

If my child’s IEP is carefully planned, written, and carried out, what could be the benefits?

  • Lower teachers to student ratios (more time face to face with the teacher)
  • More time given for review of curriculum (this is extra help for the child)
  • Special testing accommodations (no time limits, use of reference sheets, use of a scribe)
  • Accommodations in the classroom (less homework, use of a spell checker, books on CD)
  • Specialized instruction (Wilson Reading, Orton-Gillingham, Touch Math)
  • Special therapies (physical or occupational therapy, social skills groups)
  • Use of non-standard accommodations (sensory stimulation, fidget-toys, seat cushions, behavior modification plans)
  • No cost summer program
  • Accountability (progress reports, frequent assessment of goals, yearly team meetings)
  • Confidentiality

While special education is not right for every child, it is exactly what others need to be successful. Consider the positives as closely as you consider the negatives when you are deciding whether to give your consent.  Again, I suggest you do your research about your child’s disability, take the time to visit the school and see their special education program, and know what options are available to your child before you make any decisions.

NOTE:  If you feel your child needs special education services and was denied by the school district, there are things you can do to try to get your child the help they need.  I discuss this issue further in What You Can Do if Your Child Has Been Denied SPED Services .

Forming a Collaborative Relationship with Your Child’s School

27 May

Your child’s needs are not being met.  There is after-school melt downs and homework brawls.  You’ve written nice notes or made a friendly phone call to the teacher, but nothing is improving.  You are at your wit’s end, so you fire off an email blasting the teacher with all of your frustration, resulting in a phone call from the equally frustrated teacher. With all the emotions, stress, and worry of parenting a child with learning issues, it isn’t always easy to keep a positive relationship with your child’s school.  It is very easy to let emotions get the best of you and quickly communication breaks down.  However, being able to work cooperatively with your child’s school will always benefit your child.

If your child has not yet qualified for special education services, it is quite possible that your child’s teacher is struggling with many of the same issues you are at home, and she has 24 other students’ needs to meet.  Teachers must follow school policy when it comes to referrals for students, and that process can take some time.  Your child’s teacher is probably working hard to meet your child’s needs, but she  able to completely.  It is really important to sit down with your child’s teacher and talk about the frustrations that you have, as the parent, and let her talk about what she is seeing in the classroom.  You will get information from the teacher that will help you be able to advocate for your child.  Most likely, the teacher wants your child to receive as much help as possible, but she is in a tough position working for the system that may not want to give the services.  The administrators are the people that are responsible for keeping the district within their spending budget.  They will put pressure on teachers and principals to keep special ed. numbers down.  However, your child’s teacher has a vested interest in getting your child the services they need.  They do not want to have to struggle to meet your child’s needs, while there is a special educator there to give that support.  It makes their job extremely difficult.   Most teachers will give you the information you need to help your child, you  need to be willing to sit down and listen to them.  Be ready to hear what she is saying, because she is probably going to say things in a way that will not “incriminate” her with the sped department, but will help you in your attempt to get your child the help they need.  Remember that most teachers are in their profession because they want to help children, they aren’t hoarding special education services.

Before you fire off that email or make that call, remember that you could be alienating the one person on the inside that can help you get what you want for your child.