5 Things Parents Must Know If New To Special Education
I had no clue special education existed before searching for resources for my kids. From the beginning, having my child educationally evaluated was overwhelming; other parents would tell me horror stories about their own experiences, which didn't help my anxiety.
Maintaining a positive outlook and going into the evaluation without a preconceived idea became difficult. I could never imagine that the school would not help my child.
ADVOCACY STARTED EARLY!
Our support search started when my son turned 18 months old. We reached out for support in early intervention. We learned that a child having significant sensory sensitivities with extreme reactions was seen as a failure by the parent, not a developmental area that needs assistance.
Finding a specialist willing to evaluate and offer suggestions would take another two years. Our partnership with her became our first step towards support for our child and, eventually, a diagnosis.
She became our source to learn what additional support was available in our community. Soon after, she referred us to our local school district for further educational evaluations and how we learned about special education.
The IEP evaluation process for preschool was straightforward, and we were fortunate to have a team that walked us through each step. Unfortunately, the school couldn't see our child's sensory sensitivities or behaviors during the evaluation, and he was found ineligible for special education services.
Again, we were left feeling lost and confused. We had no idea how to find the right educational program for the support our child needs if special education wouldn't accept him. Fortunately, eight months later, when our child turned 4.5 years old, he received his autism diagnosis.
This diagnosis relieved our family, allowing doors for support to open. With the help of our psychologist, she expressed his needs in a way that supported our family in advocating for his eligibility in the special education preschool program. Because of our advocacy work for our son, our daughter received the support she needed much earlier.
Since her disabilities were physically noticeable, receiving early intervention to support her developmental delay in speech impairment, fine motor, gross motor, and chronic respiratory issues were more accessible. I genuinely believe that the advocating skills I learned during these difficult moments with both children helped me find my voice.
SOMETIMES COMMUNICATION NEEDS TO BE ENOUGH!
The hardest part about advocating for my kids' needs was not communicating with their school. That was difficult, but it was overcoming my anxiety about how I could affect my child's education by speaking out.
I was also too aware of how parents can be wrongfully labeled "that parent," It wasn't until school began to fall apart for my son that I knew I had to step up. The school was not offering any support outside of disciplinary write-ups and calls from the principal.
After a very stressful situation, I had to come to "that mom." When I finally mustered the courage to share my concerns about reading and writing difficulties, the school replied, "He just needs more time." I felt defeated.
But when the pandemic shut our school down, it was almost a gift to our family - a break from school, more control over his education, and a bird's eye view of exactly how he learns. We worked hard on getting the work required for school even though each day took hours and there were many meltdowns.
Eventually, I was too tired to ignore that I needed help. Shortly after that, we scheduled an IEP meeting, and by the end, we planned to teach me how to teach my son at home.
I WISH I HAD KNOWN BEFORE MY FIRST IEP MEETING!
Despite a positive outcome, these five changes I have made have established a stronger team relationship and a thriving environment for my kids at school. These are the five things I'm taking into future IEP meetings.
I lacked confidence in my ability as a mom, and I wish I could have been more direct with my kids' educational needs.
Listening to advice from other parents made me fearful of building relationships with my son's teachers. We would have made more progress if I hadn't worried so much about how I would be labeled by asking questions.
I felt I had to do it all perfectly. I wish I had offered myself more grace while juggling two kids with different needs. If I focused on one kid's needs, I was neglecting the other kids' needs. Maybe they watched too much tv while I was doing school with the first kid, and vice versa. I burnt myself out; it was a true lesson and a new beginning not to do that again.
Could you ask your IEP team for help? You can include parent training as part of your child's services in their IEP. Once we created a plan on what I could do at home to support their goals, I felt a significant boost in my confidence to teach my kids.
Please ask for an additional assessment in writing the moment you start having concerns. It is frustrating not to get past the "wait-to-see" cycle; years go by without interventions. Just like an IEP is a fluid document, the way we advocate should also be.
It's crucial to approach situations in a way that amplifies your parent's voice at the IEP table. That does not mean avoiding having tough conversations; it means being tactful, child-focused, and solution-oriented.
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