Making sure your child’s needs are accommodated is a top priority.
“Back to school” is an exciting time for all students and parents. It can also be quite nerve-wracking. For a child with special needs and their parents, it can be an anxiety provoking experience. This post is intended to make the “back to school” transition a little bit easier.
Do You Have Your Child’s IEP?
Make sure you have your child’s current 2011-2012 Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”). If you do not have it as of right now, give your school district a call or send them an email requesting it be provided to you as soon as possible prior to the start of the school year.
Has Anything Significant Changed Over the Summer?
Did your child have any new evaluations or even a new diagnosis? Did new concerns, behaviors or issues develop in your child over the summer, which were not discussed at the end of the year IEP Meeting? Did your child make such significant gains or have a significant regression over the summer that the goals on the IEP are no longer meaningful? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” then you need to contact the special education office and let them know and, possibly, request a meeting.
Have You Read the IEP?
Make sure you have read your child’s IEP. Your child’s IEP is your contract with the district. The IEP speaks to what services your child is going to receive for the upcoming year and what your child is expected to achieve this upcoming year. The IEP may look very different this year because New York State has implemented a new IEP form. Please make sure you understand how your child’s progress is being measured. Will data be taken? How often will data be collected? How and when will you be provided with progress reports?
Do You Understand the “Lingo”?
In order to advocate effectively for your child and understand his or her IEP, it is important to have a good command of the language used in the special education arena. There are numerous acronyms used. Here is a good “cheat sheet”: Knowing your ABCs When You Have A Child With Special Needs
Set Up a Meeting or Send an Email!
During the busy back to school time, teachers are busy preparing for all students. To avoid confusion and to make the start of the school year run more smoothly, it is a good idea to set up a meeting or send an email to your child’s teacher(s).
Back to school time is a hectic time for everyone but it is a good idea to schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher to review his or her IEP. This is a great time to provide the teacher with special insight about your child’s learning style, ask questions about homework or provide information if your child is on a special diet. In many instances, it is also a good idea for the child to meet the teacher along with any other service providers. If your child will be attending a new school, this is a great time for a tour of the campus to help ease any first-day-of-school anxiety.
However, a meeting not always be possible. If this is case, in order to get off to a solid start with new teacher(s), you may want to create a readable “down and dirty” dossier that goes above and beyond the IEP. Start with your child’s strengths, but do not hold back on challenges. How does your child act when he or she is angry? Nervous? Sad? Also, highlight some of the accommodations and services that your child should be getting. If your child is in middle or high school, it is important to send it to your child’s entire teaching team to ensure that all services, accommodations and modifications are applied evenly and consistently across all settings.
It is important to establish the best way to communicate with your child’s teacher(s) prior to the start to the school year. In addition, it is important to understand how often they will be communicating with you about your child. Ongoing reports about your child’s progress are critical for parents to fully participate in their child’s education. For some students, it may mean a daily log that is sent home in the child’s backpack. For others, it may mean a weekly email. And for some, it may mean parent teacher conferences, team meetings or progress reports. Whatever it will be for your child, you should get it straight before the school year starts so there are no unrealistic expectations and to ensure that everybody is on the same page.
Remember There Will Be An Adjustment Period
Sometimes parents are quick to say that a program is not working. As a parent of a special needs child, I understand the need to make sure everything is perfect on the first day of school. Even for the student without an IEP, there is an adjustment and recoupment period built into each grade’s curriculum.
The teachers and the other professionals that work with your child will need a reasonable amount of time to adjust. We cannot expect perfection in the first couple of weeks, even though it would be desirable. You need to allow time for the teachers and other professionals to get to know your child and his or her unique learning style.
Also Remember – You Have Rights
Never forget that, as a parent of a child with an IEP, the law affords you many important rights. Never feel as though you should not invoke those rights if things are not going well.
Although you should allow for an adjustment period, you should never feel that you are “stuck” with a program that is not appropriate for your child. If you are not happy with how your child’s school year is progressing, start by requesting a program review by the Committee on Special Education (“CSE”).
Try to Stay Positive
Finally, as school approaches, do not be surprised if your child’s excitement and anxiety blends with some anxiety of your own. Pay attention to your own stress level, and do what you can to send positive, upbeat messages to your child about the year ahead.
Remember: teachers and other school personnel went into this business because they care about children. They are as eager as you are to have a great year!
Sheryl R. Frishman, Parent, Board Member The Arc of the U.S. & Arc Westchester
Nothing in this blog post should be construed as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney before relying on the information contained herein.