Tips for Parents Entering the World of Special Education

October is Learning Disabilities Awareness month. While raising a child with these types of disabilities is challenging in all aspects of life, the challenges are certainly highlighted in the school setting…

RTI, 504, IEP, SPED :: Are these just random letters and numbers strung together or do they mean something to you? If they are familiar, then there’s a good chance that you, a family member, or a friend has a child with a learning difference. Navigating the world of accommodations and modifications in the public school system can be difficult. There are countless acronyms, and it can often seem like educators are speaking a foreign language when they use them in conversation. If you are entering or already entrenched in the world of special education, it’s important to understand and ask questions about the processes, legalities, and responsibilities of all parties involved. Our children are guaranteed an education that meets their specific needs, and as parents, we are important members of the team that makes that happen.

Tips for Navigating the Special Education System

Learn the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act {IDEA} is a federal law that guarantees appropriate educational services to children who qualify for special education. These children will have an Individual Education Program {IEP} in place that is individualized for him or her. The child must meet certain criteria to qualify for an IEP, but even if he doesn’t, he may still qualify for a 504 plan. 504 plans are assigned to children who don’t qualify for special education, but have a physical or mental impairment {including ADHD in some cases} that requires modifications.

An honest, respectful relationship with the classroom teacher is essential.  Your child’s classroom teacher is a professional who is trained to educate students according to their needs and learning styles. If you feel like your child would benefit from accommodations and/or modifications, get input from the teacher. Consider her recommendations, and provide as much information to her as you can about your child. You are a team.

Your child can be academically tested for free if you use your school’s resources. Contact the teacher or the school to find out their policies and procedures of testing. Often, you as the parent will have to request the testing. Don’t wait for the school to recommend it. If you choose to use a private diagnostician, outside of the school, the school is not required to accept their findings.

You are your child’s best advocate. If your child needs extra help, ask for it. Ask for every accommodation /modification your child needs to be successful. A 504 plan and an IEP are legal documents, and teachers are required to follow them.

Be prepared and proactive. When a meeting is scheduled to discuss your child’s educational needs, the campus compliance coordinator, your child’s teacher{s}, and you will attend. Bring any data {prior school work, test results, etc} to demonstrate why your child needs help. Provide examples to show how certain strategies have proven to be beneficial.

Ask specifically what accommodations and modifications entail. Is “small group testing” 5 students or 10? Is “extended time” 10 minutes or two days? The more details you know about the plan, the better equipped you will be to ensure the plan is being followed.

Parenting a child with a disability or learning difference is challenging and can seem overwhelming at times. Your job as your child’s advocate is not over after your meeting and a plan is set into place. You must remember to stay in regular communication with the teacher{s} to ensure your child’s academic needs are being met. Remember to be respectful in all emails and phone calls. The teachers know you are worried about your child, and most teachers work diligently to ensure all accommodations and modifications are being followed.

If you have a child with an IEP or 504 plan, what are your tips to parents just beginning the journey of navigating the special education system? Let us know in the comments!

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Michele is a native Houstonian and loves everything Texas, including the Longhorns. She and her husband were married in January 2002 and are parents to the most wonderful girls, Penelope {August 2008} and Pandora {August 2011}. A former educator, Michele is passionate about education and student learning. She spends most of her days volunteering at her daughters' schools and tutoring neighborhood children in reading. Michele loves her big family and enjoys traveling to see all her relatives as well as being the fun aunt to her nieces and nephews. Her daily goal is to laugh each day and enjoy the moments. Becoming a mom was the greatest gift for Michele, and she treasures it all, even the tantrums. You can read more about Michele, her life, and her parenting adventures on her personal blog The Adventures of Tomboys in Tiaras.


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