When it comes to learning disabilities, knowing your child is half the battle—the other half is knowing how to get what your child needs from her school system. Here are some strategies to help you navigate the system.
- Know the law
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is federal legislation that clarifies how certain areas of the law—disability categories, evaluation techniques, special ed services, teaching methodologies—apply to students with LD and ADHD. Each state also writes its own regulations to implement the federal laws.
Action Step: Access copies of laws, regulations, commentaries, and state-prepared parent guides to special education, free of charge, online or from your State Department of Education.
- Nurture relationships with the decision-makers
Because special education can be a contentious area, it’s important to understand the structure and politics of your child’s school system. Develop professional and positive relationships with everyone involved in your child’s education including classroom teachers and power players such as the superintendent and members of the Board of Education.
Action Step: Share your vision for his education, information about what works and what doesn’t work, and research you’ve uncovered that may be helpful. Communicate to all levels what’s important to you and your child.
- Work closely with your child’s IEP team
Your child’s IEP team may include a variety of members, such as special and general education teachers, related service providers (occupational, physical, and speech therapists, adaptive physical education instructors, psychologists, and social workers), a paraprofessional aide, and a case manager. Know who is responsible for making decisions concerning her program, from day-to-day choices to decisions regarding extended school year programming.
Action Step: Your child’s IEP plans should include regular conferences between parents and staff. If, however, you have a particular concern, address it first with her classroom teacher before working your way up the hierarchy.
- Advocate for your child and special education
Attend conferences and share information with staff, administrators and other parents. Give out worthwhile books or audio or videotapes at team meetings or as teacher gifts. Reach out to advocacy groups that offer training courses and presentations that teach advocacy skills.
Parent groups bring a wealth of information to the community, promote networking, allow you to make sure your voice is heard, assure parents that they are not alone in their journey, and bring meaning to the adage that there is strength in numbers.
Action Step: Form an educational, advocacy, or support group to serve parents in the community and to bring information and training to staff and administrators.
Action Step: Write letters or commentaries for the local newspaper or school newsletters about hot topics in special ed (the importance of inclusive educational practices, research-based reading programs, social and emotional development, Universal Design for Learning, Responsiveness to Intervention (RTI), effective teaching practices).
- Continue your education about special education
Make contact with consultants from your state’s Department of Education: Bureau of Special Education, University Centers for Excellence, and Parent Advocacy Centers whom you can trust to clarify or advise you on issues that may arise regarding your children’s programs.
Eve Kessler, Esq., a criminal appellate attorney with The Legal Aid Society, NYC, is co-founder of SPED*NET, Special Education Network of Wilton (CT) and a Contributing Editor of Smart Kids.