Helping Your Child Adjust to Special Education
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
As a parent of a special education student, your involvement in your child’s education doesn’t end once you have signed the consent form and given the school the go-ahead for the program to begin. In some respects, it is only beginning. You will want to monitor the program closely to make sure your child is receiving the services described in the Individualized Education Program (IEP). Pay careful attention to your child’s schedule to make sure that he is not confused about where to go and is not feeling overwhelmed by the various teachers or programs. You will also want to keep tabs on your child’s progress and step in if he is not making any progress. The IEP is not etched in stone. It is a living document which can be changed at any time as long as the school and parents agree.
You will be most successful in keeping track of your child’s program and progress if you develop a good working relationship with your child’s teacher and keep in regular contact with her. This might be in the form of a weekly telephone call or a notebook for teacher and parent comments and which goes between home and school daily. You also might want to meet with the teacher soon after the school year begins to lay the groundwork for a productive relationship and inform her of key information regarding your child.
In addition to working with the teacher to reinforce school skills at home, pay attention to your child’s self-esteem. Students with disabilities have a history of failure and often are down on themselves. Many become discouraged. Others even feel defective. In the words of one disabled child, “I feel like I’m broken.” Be sympathetic to their difficulty and let them know you understand their frustration. Focus more on their strengths than their shortcomings. Look for opportunities to praise and encourage them and highlight their accomplishments.
Because of the obstacles educationally disabled children face, your role is vital in advocating for your child. After all, nobody knows as much about your child as you do and nobody will fight as hard as you will to protect his interests and obtain needed services. Many districts have begun groups for parents of special education students, often called septa for Special Education PTA. Through these and other groups, parents have addressed special education concerns with the board of education, established recreational and social programs for children with special needs, and provided a forum for parents to share concerns with each other. Other parents can offer a wealth of information about raising a disabled child and negotiating the special education maze. They can also provide the understanding and emotional support that can only come from those who have gone through a similar process.