The beginning of the school year is a demanding time for parents: school supplies, homework, new routines, and the return to having every minute of every day scheduled. This time of year is taxing for any parent, but it can be especially difficult for parents of children with special needs (and the kids too)! The return to school means working with new teachers and professionals who do not know your child or family, or know how to best meet their needs – this means it is time for parents to advocate, advocate, advocate.
In my experience, most schools and school systems are excellent in assisting kids with special needs in the transition between grades, but even the best schools are not perfect. Parents routinely need to assess whether the school is adequately meeting their family’s needs. 504 plans and Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are great tools, but only if they are being followed by each and every provider in the school. Time and time again, I hear stories of teachers who do not know the requirements of an IEP or that the services in an IEP are not actually being provided. You should always consider the school system your teammate – however, teachers and support providers are human too. At the end of the day, parents have to be their child’s biggest and loudest advocate.
Know your rights! Knowing your rights is the first step in getting your family’s needs met. If you are concerned that your child might need an evaluation for a 504 or IEP, send a written request to the school for an evaluation. You can make a verbal request, but I always recommend that a parent do the request in writing – a letter equals proof. The school is required to address your concerns. Once they are evaluated, recommendations will be made and, if deemed necessary, an IEP will be created and executed. Generally, a child will have their IEP reviewed and amended annually – parents should always be invited to, and attend, this meeting!
Between annual meetings, parents should be given information on how their children are meeting their goals and have the right to ask for changes and additional accommodations as needs arise. In addition, every three years a child should be reevaluated because as they get older, additional diagnoses can be made and/or some diagnoses may be eliminated. Evaluations can be done more often than every three years but, again, a request has to be made from a parent or provider.
Parents, you know your children best, and it is important that you are an integral part of the educational process. Again, most schools are excellent in providing assistance to kids with special needs but, if you ever feel like you are not being heard and your family’s needs are not being met, there are excellent educational advocates/lawyers that you can hire to assist you in getting your child’s educational needs met. In addition, mental health professionals can be excellent advocates and supports for you and your child. Have a great school year!
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