Archive | special needs RSS feed for this section

Your IEP Child: Starting Off the New School Year Right

20 Aug

It’s a new school year!  New clothes, new supplies, new teacher!  Exciting, right?  For children that struggle in school, the coming of the new school year can be a difficult transition time.  Past experience may have taught them that school is not a pleasant experience.  My own son, who struggles with ADHD and dyslexia, has, in the past, dreaded the coming of the new school year.  When your child does not have a healthy and happy attitude about school and learning, it makes their struggles even more painful for them and you (as their parent).  This does not mean that you should just except that your child will never enjoy going to school.  Many of my students that are on IEPs are  happy at school. Some student’s have a naturally positive attitude, but most of my struggling students need support to develop a healthy and happy attitude about learning.   I am happy to report that my son is looking forward to school beginning in a few weeks.  He has gotten a lot of support over the last school year and this summer, through his summer program.  He is looking forward to starting his new language based program and seeing the friends he has made.  Here are some ideas for building a healthy and happy attitude toward school that I have seen work with students on IEPs:

  • Be sure that your child’s educational needs are being met.  Nothing will bring down any student more than not getting what they need.  Ask questions of your child and the teachers that will tell you if the IEP is not being adhered too.  For example, you coud ask “Are you being given extra time to complete your tests?”
  • Remind your child OFTEN of the strengths they have.  Plan games and activities that emphasize these areas. For example, if your child is good at math, have them be the banker during a board game and be sure to say, “Mary is going to be the banker because she is so good at math.”
  • Let the teachers know about your child’s likes and dislikes.  Set your child up for success by informing the teacher right away of how to please them and how to avoid a melt down.
  • Experiment with homework times to find the best suited time for your child.  Try to set up and stick to a homework routine, this will reduce meltdowns and set expectations.
  • BE POSITIVE!  If your excited about school and learning, the chances are your child will pick up on your attitude and may imitate it.  Ask questions in a positive way.   For example:  “What great things happened at school today!”  “Tell me about something you were proud of today!”  “How many fun activities did you get to do today!”
  • Call out school staff that are being overly critical or negative about your child.  If you sense that a teacher’s attitude is affecting your child, you can call that teacher out (politely).  You could say something like, “Joey has been upset lately about some of the things that have happened at school.  He feels like he is being called out a lot and not being complimented enough.  How can we work together to fix this situation so that Joey can be happier at school?”

IEPs Explained for Parents

12 Aug

If you are not in the special education field, reading an individual education program (IEP) can be a little like reading a document in another language.  You will find terminology that you probably have not come in contact with before. There are lots of acronyms and terms on IEPs that are specific to special education.  Here, I will try to explain some of the more confusing terms and acronyms of IEPs, however, if you have a question about your child’s IEP that this post does not answer, feel free to post a question.

General Curriculum:  This the regular curriculum that all non-disabled students receive in a school district.  The term general is used in place of “regular”; for example, a non-special education classroom is called a general education classroom.

Instructional Modifications:  Basically, these are any changes that can and will be made to the instruction for your child to help their learning.   These can also be called specially designed instruction.  These are changes that non-disabled students do not qualify for.

Methodology:  This means how the instruction will be delivered, by which method.  Sometimes teams will specify a certain way to best present new material to your child (e.g. visual aids or multi-sensory instruction).

accommodations:  These are changes to the learning environment that will help your child make more effective progress.  Students who are not on IEPs can qualify for accommodations as well.  An example of an accommodation is preferential seating near the source of instruction.

Assistive Technology:  These are devices (can be electronic) that can help a student with a disability.

Performance Criteria:  This is another term for testing or assessment.

Measurable Goal:  This is a goal (or outcome) that can be actually measured.  Usually goals are written in terms of ratios and/or percentages.  Here is an example of a measurable goal:  Jane will read a paragraph with 80% accuracy in 4:5 opportunities. The goals should be challenging, yet reachable.

Benchmarks:  These are the steps that a student will probably make before they can accomplish the measurable goal.  For example, Jane will probably read with 75% accuracy before she can read it at 80% accuracy.  If the goals are challenging enough, students will not be able to reach them without first meeting the benchmarks.

Nonparticipation Justification:  This is were the school district must prove why they are removing a student from the general education classroom.  Because students have the right to be educated with their peers to the most extent possible, the school system needs to tell why it is preferable to take this student out.

Should I Sign My Child’s IEP?

10 Aug

What to Consider Prior to Signing a New IEP 

An individual education program or plan is a document that outlines the special education services your child will receive.  It includes your child’s disability, current academic performance levels, accommodations they will get, services to be provided, goals for your child to meet, and how they will be assessed. An IEP is a legal document that is binding for the school district.  As a parent you have the right to revoke your permission for the IEP at anytime. Many of us parents worry about our children’s IEPs.  We wonder if it is appropriate, if it will benefit our child, and if we should give our permission to implement it.  You should never feel pressure to sign an IEP, you have 30 days to consider it.  Here are some things to consider prior to signing an IEP (or after you’ve signed!):

  • Do I agree that my child does indeed have the diagnosed  disability? If not, why do you believe your child isn’t making progress?
  • Do you believe your child truly needs the listed the accommodations?  or Do you think they will need more accommodations to make  progress?
  • Do you believe that your child’s school can deliver the specially designed instruction your child needs to make progress?  If not, what has led you to believe this?
  • Do you believe your child has other educational needs (such as, social needs or behavior support) that the school has not addressed in the IEP?  If yes, what needs are these?
  • Has the school written MEASURABLE goals? (For example:  Joe will improve his oral reading fluency to 60 words per minute by the end of the third marking period. This is measurable because a teacher can measure words read per minute by doing a running record of Joe’s reading.)
  • Do you think your child is going to receive too little or too much direct special education services?  If yes, how much service time do you think they need?
  • Do you agree that your child needs to be removed from their classroom to receive their services?  Do you think their needs can be best met in the classroom?  Does the IEP reflect your belief in this area?
  • Do you think your child would benefit from a summer program?  Why or why not?
  • Is your child being assessed in a fair, non-biased way?

After considering the proposed IEP carefully, you have 3 options.  You can accept the IEP as developed, sign it, and return.  Services for your child will begin right away.  You can reject the entire IEP as developed, sign it, and return.   No services will be given to your child and a new meeting will be scheduled.  You can reject portions of it that you are uncomfortable with, sign it and return.  This last option is beneficial for your child because some services (the ones you have not rejected) can be started as soon as the document is returned.  If you take the last option, you should attach a letter stating which portions you are rejecting and why.  I will post later about this option later because it is a real benefit to parents who are advocating for better SPED for their children.

Emotional and Behavioral Disorders and Special Education

20 Jul

Some children have disabilities that affect their ability to behave in the expected way while at school.  For some of these students, their educational performance is affected and they may qualify for special education.   A child with an emotional and/or a behavioral disorder (EBD) that qualifies for special education will have special protections given to them that other students will not have.  If you suspect that your child may have EBD, or they have already been diagnosed, you may want to think about getting them qualified* for special education services to protect them.  Without a special education (sped) qualification, some students with EBD will be punished for behavior that it out of their control.  Some students are even suspended or expelled from school for their behaviors.  Most parents do not want to see their child miss out on their education because they have a disability, but are unsure how special education professionals can help their child.

Some children with EBD have externalizing behaviors.  This is acting out behavior that gets them into trouble with authority figures.  A child that is receiving sped services will not be able to be suspended for more than 10 days in a school year, or expelled, without a hearing to decide if the behavior is a result of their disability.  Also, if your child’s disorder becomes too acute for the school to handle, the school will have to place them in another educational setting. Other children have internalizing behaviors.  These are behaviors directed at themselves, such as feelings of self-hatred, depression, or suicidal thoughts.  Most schools have professionals on staff that can help students deal with these kinds of behaviors while at school. If the school cannot help the sped student with internalizing behaviors with the resources they have, the school will have to offer an alternative educational placement.

What children with EBD qualify* for special education?

Students must have a behavioral or emotional disturbance that will last over a long period and to a degree that it is affecting their ability to achieve at school.  What this means is that if a child experiences an emotional shock (such as a death of a parent) and begins to act out, they would probably not qualify for sped because they haven’t been experiencing the disturbance over a long time and the effects of the shock may improve.  Also, the disturbance must be severe enough that is affecting the students ability to do well in school.  For example, a student that is mildly depressed may have some difficulties, such as a poor self-image, but they may not be severe enough for them to need special services while at school.  Here are 5 factors that will qualify a child with EBD for sped services:

1.  Low academic achievement that cannot be explained by another reason (such as a learning disability)

2.  Low social skills (can’t keep up relationships with peers and teachers)

3.  Unexpected behavior in normal circumstances

4.  Depression or pervasive unhappiness

5.  Fear and anxiety associated with school issues

Specific illnesses that qualify children with EBD are:  attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), depression, and bipolar disorder.

*For more information about qualifying your child for special education, see earlier posts.

What is a Core Evaluation? (Educational Evaluation Description)

12 Jul

These are the components of a comprehensive educational evaluation (or core evaluation). Of course, not every student would be given all of these individual evaluations, but a good evaluation should produce a complete profile of your child as a learner and include more than one assessment. I believe that each student that is suspected of having special educational needs deserves to have a comprehensive evaluation that looks at each area of suspected need in an in depth way. I do not believe that adequate educational plans can be written without a complete learning profile of each student evaluated. A learning profile shows a child’s learning strengths and weakness and details ways in which your child would learn information best.

Here is a list of what a comprehensive educational evaluation could include:

History of the Student This section of the evaluation should include the results of previous testing and instructional approaches tried with the student. Information should be gathered from a review of the student’s records, such as cumulative folder, report cards, and standardized testing scores. Information should also be included about the child’s health and development, such as was the child born prematurely and did they reach developmental milestones at the expected ages.

Language Evaluation This section of the evaluation should include the results of testing in all the areas of language: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Reading areas that should be tested are phonemic awareness, phonological processing, phonics, and reading comprehension. A writing evaluation should include spelling, handwriting, sentence organization and cohesion, and conventions. A listening (or receptive language) evaluation would include following directions and listening comprehension tests. A speech and language evaluation would look at the student’s ability to correctly make sounds and say words and their ability express themselves in a variety of situations.

Math Evaluation A math evaluation measures a student’s mathematical reasoning skills and their number concepts and intuition. A math assessment would look at the following areas: number sense, functional and applied mathematical skills, problem solving, calculation, and the meaning and relationship of algorithms.

Cognitive Evaluation This area of the evaluation would measure the student’s brain functions and assess their potential to learn new skills and information. Areas that may be assessed are working memory, executive function, visual-spatial processing, problem solving, pattern recognition, abstract reasoning, and intellectual ability.

Emotional/Behavioral Evaluation This part of the evaluation would include information about the child’s emotional state, self-concept, and ability to maintain expected behavior and adherence to the rules of school. Areas that may be assessed are anxiety, attention span, hyperactivity or arousal level, impulsivity or self-control, defiant or non-compliant behavior, and depression.

Health Evaluation This evaluation would be included if a student is suspected of having a health-related issue that is effecting their ability to access the curriculum. The student’s pediatrician or a specialist in the area of concern usually does this evaluation. Types of health evaluations that can be done are vision or hearing evaluations, neurology, respiratory, or developmental.

Occupational or Physical Therapy Evaluations These types of evaluation are done is a student is suspected of having a delay or disability in the area of fine motor (such as tasks involving the use of the hands) or gross motor skills (such as tasks involving the use of the legs and feet). More increasingly, occupational therapy evaluations are including sensory integration assessments that measure a student’s under-reactiveness or over-reactiveness to sensory stimuli.

Good luck and remember that a good educational evaluation should produce a profile of your child’s learning strengths and weakness, as well as the ways in which they would learn best.

What is an IEP?

13 Jun

IEP stands for individual education plan.  It is a plan for how to educate a student that has qualified for special education because they have a documented disability and it is impacting their ability to be successful at school.  An IEP is written by a team of people that includes the parents of the child, the general education teacher, the special education teacher, educational therapists (speech and language pathologists, occupational and physical therapists, school psychologists, etc.), and sometimes an administrator from the school or special education department.  The basic process for getting a students on an IEP is to first refer them for testing.  This testing is suppose to answer the following questions:  1) Does the student have a qualifying disability? and 2) Are they making sufficient progress?  If the team decides yes to question one and no to question two, then the student has qualified for special education and an IEP will be written.

The parents will be asked to come to a meeting where their child’s IEP will be planned.  The parents will have input into the accommodations given to their child, the goals that the teachers will have for them, the amount of time spent giving the child special services, when the child will be removed from their classroom, and the type of classroom they will be placed in.   Parents have the final approval on the IEP.  If the school staff and the parents disagree about any aspect of the IEP, they should try to resolve these issues at another meeting.  If they cannot resolve the issues, then the parents or school can ask for an independent mediator to help them resolve the issues.  In some cases of extreme differences in opinion, the issues will be resolved at a hearing.

An IEP will have the following sections:

1.  Student Strengths and Evaluation Results This section reports the testing results and what areas of strength your child has.

2.  Present Level of Educational Performance: General Curriculum and Other Educational Needs This is where accommodations for the general education classroom are listed.

3.  Current Performance Levels/Measurable Goals  This section tells how your child is performing in school, what areas the teachers will be focusing on for improvement and how they plan to do it.

4.  Service Delivery This is a chart that states who will be working with your child, where, and for how many hours per week.

5.  Nonparticipation Justification If your child will be removed from the class for any reason, this section explains why.

6.  Schedule Modification In this section the team can decide to make a student’s school day or year longer or shorter and states why this decision was made.

7.  Transportation Services This section states if the student will need special transportation.

8.  Assessment  In this section, the team will decide how to best test this student and list the testing accommodations they will use.

For more information on IEPs see “Does My Child Really Need an IEP?”

Getting What Your Child Needs at School

11 Jun

What Every Teacher Would Love to Tell You but They Can’t

Your child is struggling at school and the teacher calls you in for a conference.  She tells you that she is concerned about your child’s progress, but you leave the conference with more questions than when you got there.  Does my child need special education services?  Why didn’t the teacher just come right out and suggest it?  Most likely it is because, like many teachers, she’s under pressure not to.  She may be trying to get you to make a special education referral for your child without saying it out right.  You may have mixed feeling about special education and be confused about what your child really needs.  As a teacher, I can tell you that if she’s called you in for a conference, you have reason to be concerned and should, at the very least, investigate her concerns.

A teacher can make a special education referral for a student, but it’s preferrable for the parent to do it.  There are two reasons for this.  The first is that it takes longer for a teacher to make the referral.  A teacher has to go through a process of trying different things and documenting if they are successful or not.  This can take several months to do.  If a parent refers their own child, the testing starts within 30 days of your written consent to testing.  The second reason it is more preferable for a parent to refer their own child is that some school systems subtly pressure teachers not to refer students for special education.  SPED costs a lot of money for public school districts and they are obligated by federal law to offer these services to any child that qualifies.  The only way for a district to keep their SPED costs down it to qualify less students.

What Will Happen If I Don’t Refer My Child for SPED Testing?

Your child’s teacher can help them if you don’t refer them for SPED testing.  Many schools have a way to help general education students that are struggling.  It is often called RTI (response to intervention) and it can be helpful.  The classroom teacher may be the one to give the intervention (extra help) or it could be a teacher’s assistant, a Title One teacher, a reading or math coach, or other qualified school staff member.  All good intervention should include regular assessment to be sure that it is working.  As the parent, before agreeing to intervention services ask:

  • How much intervention will my child get? ( Once a week for 30 min. is not enough.)
  • Who will be providing it?  (It should be a qualified, trained person.)
  • How will they know it is working?  (They should be assessing every few weeks.)

Realistically, they can probably fit this extra help into your child’s schedule about 3 times a week for 30 minutes.  Do not allow this extra help to be provided by an untrained staff member, it may end up being a waste of your child’s time.  Ask for the assessment results to be sent home so you can keep track yourself.  This kind intervention is enough for some student’s to be brought up to grade level in reading or math.  However, for some it is not.

If your child’s school is providing this kind of extra support for your child I would check in after about 8 to 10 weeks.  I would ask for a review of the data that they should of collected on your child.  (By data I mean results from an assessment that they should be doing to track progress.)  Make sure that what they are doing is getting results (the scores should be going up consistently).  If it is not, the intervention is not working and a referral for special education should be made.

What Will Happen if I Refer My Child for SPED Testing?

You will need to write a letter asking for testing.  In your letter you should state what you suspect may be the problem and list the types of assessments you want done.  You will have to sign a consent form.  Do this quickly, because the testing will begin within 30 days of the school’s receipt of that signed form.  Within 45 days of that consent, you will have a meeting with the school to review the results.  Ask for the results to be given to you before that meeting in you original letter (they have to give this to you at least 2 days before the meeting).  This is a good idea to do for two reasons.  First, you will need time to read this report on your own and look up any terms you don’t understand.  Second, sometimes schools wait until the last (and I do mean last) minute to test your child.  Tests are done in haste and reports can be shoddy.  If you ask for the reports to be given to you before the meeting, the district will have to complete the testing and report at least 2 days before the meeting and they will know you intend to give the report your full attention (meaning a shoddy report isn’t going to fly with you).

Here is what to include in you referral letter:

  • Reason for referral (something like… my child is struggling in school and attempts to help have failed…)
  • Suspected disability (it could be a specific learning disability, a health disability, a developmental delay, an emotional disability, etc.)
  • Assessments you want done (some types of assessments are: learning/educational eval., speech & language eval., psychological eval., behavioral assessment, occupational eval., attention/distractibility scale, sensory scale, reading skills assessment, math skills assessment, auditory processing eval., etc.)
  • Request evaluation reports given to you at least 2 days before the scheduled meeting

*****For more information on this, see my “Testing (Core Evaluation)” posts*****

To Medicate or Not to Medicate Your ADHDer?

10 Jun

As a teacher, one of the more common concerns I hear from parents is about medications for children with ADHD.  As a parent, I’ve had to decide if I wanted to give my child medication for ADHD.  I know what a tough decision this is for a parent.  You may be thinking:  I love my child’s love of life and endless energy!  I get a kick out of my son’s goofy personality.  My child is not sick, so why am I giving them medicine? My child is smart, they just struggle to get the work finished.  Knowing what I know about ADHDers in the classroom, I decided to give my child the meds.  There are 3 types of ADHD:  inattentive (the daydreamer), hyperactive/impulsive (the mover and shaker), and combined type (the whirlwind).  I have a “whirlwind” and a “mover and shaker” in my family, but I’ve seen all 3 types in the classroom.  Here’s what I know, as a teacher, about the effects of ADHD.

ADHD Meds From a Teacher’s Point of View

There is a child in my class that has enormous academic potential, but because they suffer from the effects of ADHD they are not producing what they could be.  They are struggling with motivation and self-esteem issues because they cannot make themselves meet the expectations of the teacher and their peers.  They try, but continuously fail because it is beyond their control.  This child cannot focus on oral instruction because they are so distracted by things in their environment (other students, something out the window, noises from the hall, what’s hanging on the walls, etc.) and miss up to 50% of what is happening in their classroom.  This child has trouble working with a group of his classmates because they say something or do something before thinking it through (they misuse the materials, grab things before others can get a chance, blurt out answers, speaker louder, and make more body movements than the others) and this annoys the other students.  This student requires many more reminders than other students, so they hear their name being called by the teacher (or lunch aid or bus driver, etc.) many more times than other students (_____ pass in your homework, _______ put your name  on your paper, _______ return to your seat, and so on and so on).  This child cannot sit still so they sometimes get into other children’s space, knock things over, get hurt on the playground, or fall out of their chair.  These are just some of the ways that ADHD can affect a child at school.  Because there are 3 types of ADHD, it does look different in different children (especially in girls).  However, the overall effects are the same… lower self-esteem due to the fact that they have the academic potential to do well in school but struggle because of a condition that is beyond their ability to control.  I have seen medication do wonders for some children with ADHD.  One day they have all the side effects of it, the next day they come in and the symptoms are gone.  I have also seen some children (not many though) not get that affect from medication.  Generally medications for ADHD work really well and the children are happier  because most of what they struggle with goes away and they are able to reach their full potential. Friendships become easier to make and keep for some students and school becomes a happier place to be.

As a parent and teacher, I feel very strongly that parents should not arbitrarily dismiss medication for their child.   It is wise to first put yourself in your child’s shoes.  Imagine what they struggle with daily.  For your child, being at school for 6 hours with un-medicated ADHD may be like an asthmatic running a marathon with out an inhaler.  If your child is old enough, ask them how they feel about having ADHD and about medication.  Talk about the positives and negatives with them and get their opinion.  Observe your child in the classroom, compare their attention and movement level to their peers.  Watch other child react to them.  Deeply consider all the ways that their ADHD might be affecting them (socially, emotionally, academically).  Medication may not be right for your child, as their parent you are best suited to make this decision.  However, I caution you to put aside any personal judgements you may have about medication and try to make the decision that would best benefit your child.  Keep this in mind:  I know more than one adult with ADHD that often says, “I wish my parents had gotten me help for this when I was a child.”

What Could Happen if I Put My Child on ADHD Meds:

  • They may be able to concentrate better on instruction.
  • They may develop better peer relationships.
  • Their grades may improve.
  • They could stay up later or have trouble falling asleep.
  • They may not struggle as much with homework and classwork.
  • They may not get into as much trouble at school and at home.
  • They may not eat as much and may lose some weight.
  • Their self-esteem may improve because they are struggling less.
  • School may be a better place for them.
  • They might wonder why they need to be on a medication when they are not sick.
  • They might feel “right” or calmer or less worried.
  • They might feel happier.


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).