Welcome to the new school year! It’s only natural for any parent to feel emotional and scared at this time, much more so if his or her child has special needs. Let me assure you that your child with special needs can achieve great things in school and have a positive experience as well. What’s more, YOU can too!
The following five steps have helped me throughout the years as the mother of two children with special needs. I hope they may help you as well.
I’m sure you have lots of questions. Be sure to get answers for each of them. Don’t ever be afraid or embarrassed to ask. Part of the law is for you to be an active participant in every decision made for your child’s education so exercise your right to know. Keep in mind that your child is protected under the Individual Education Act for People with Disabilities. For this reason, he is entitled to free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment under an Individualized Education Plan. Don’t settle for less. You are your child’s best advocate and you have the right to ask questions about options available to your child to help him or her succeed.
- Educate yourself.
I’ve been lucky to have been surrounded by incredible professionals who have always been willing to help my children succeed. That said, something that I’ve learned and understood throughout the years is that my child is just another child in someone else’s classroom, no matter how exceptional the educator. With that in mind, since my baby is the most important and marvelous one in my heart as a parent, I must step up and take on a larger role.
Don’t leave the responsibility of your child’s success to anyone else. No one knows or loves your child like you do. Yes, sometimes it’s tough to reach an agreement between school and family, but there is no need to fight when you know your rights. Understand that there is always a way to reach an agreement based on the right fulfillment of the law and the best interest of your child.
- Be open to learning along with your child
My oldest is already 11, and I wouldn’t dare to say that I know everything about the special education process. Along with the system itself, my children grow, evolve, and their needs keep changing.
Every year I learn something new. It’s hard, complicated, and sometimes extremely exhausting. But it is how it is, and without the willingness to learn, you may get stuck in frustration and/or rage, and that doesn’t help. Keep in mind that your child’s first day of school is your first day of school too. Get excited about the future!
- Promote collaboration
Don’t wait for your child’s teacher to get in touch with you. Be proactive and build a connection that will help you and your child get the best of what school (and that teacher) have to offer. Get involved, ask how to help, bring ideas and suggestions to the table. Be a good parent. This is a very obvious advice, but sadly, it doesn’t happen all the time.
- Be sure to understand your child’s services
Your child’s Individualized Education Plan details what services he will be receiving, when, how, and why. Be sure to understand this, to follow up with his goals, and to get in touch with your child’s teacher if you feel something is not working as expected. Don’t wait for your child to fall behind to get involved. To walk along with him or her is the best strategy to help him or her overcome challenges.
May this be the beginning of a successful life full of individual achievements!