Back to School Basics for Parents of Children with Special NeedsAugust 13th, 2012
Back to school time is an exciting time for all students and their parents. However, for a child with special needs, it can be an anxiety provoking experience. Here are some suggestions 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 2012-2013 Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”). If you do not as of the time you are reading this, it is important to give your school district a call or send an email requesting that 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 for 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 so that the goals on the IEP are no longer meaningful? If the answer to any of these is “yes,” then you need to contact the special education office and let them know and, if necessary, call 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. 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. Click here for a helpful list, “The ABCs of an IEP.“
Set Up a Meeting or Send an Email
During the back to school time, teachers are busy preparing for all students. To avoid confusion and to make the start of the school year run smoothly, set up a meeting or send an email to your child’s teacher(s). If you are able, 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 as to your child’s learning style, ask questions about homework or provide information if your child is on a special diet.
For many children, it is also a good idea for the child to meet the teacher as well as 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. If a meeting is not possible or practical, you may want to create readable “down and dirty” dossier, 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 would be important to send it to your child’s entire teaching team so all services, accommodations and modifications are applied evenly and consistently across all settings.
Communication is Key
Prior to the school year, it is important to set up the best way to communicate with your child’s teacher(s) and 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, that might mean a daily log that is sent home in the child’s backpack. For others that may mean a weekly email. Others may require 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 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 myself, 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. It will take teachers and the other professionals that work with your child some reasonable time to adjust. Although desirous, we cannot expect perfection in the first couple of weeks. You need to allow the teachers and other professionals get to know your child and his or her unique learning style.
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. While, as I mentioned above, you should allow for an adjustment period. You should never feel that you are “stuck” with a program that is just not appropriate for your child. If you are not happy with how your child’s school year is progressing, a good place to start is to request 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 good 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, and they are just as eager as you are for a great year ahead!