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Staying Ahead: Back to School Basics for Children with Special Needs

Thursday, July 28, 2016 9:24 AM

The summer months are a good time to review children’s developmental and learning needs. Young children with delays may benefit from an early special education preschool program for consistent developmental enrichment. Older children with identified disabilities interfering with their learning or functioning in school can benefit from special education services. Here are some tips to help parents of children with special needs for the year ahead:

  • New to school? Initiate a case study: For children 3 years of age or older, parents can initiate a case study by contacting their public school district and making a formal request. If a child is approaching 3 years of age, and is in Early Intervention (EI), their intake coordinator can assist the family.
  • New teacher? Provide a 1-page description of your child: Provide the teacher with a brief description of your child: Their general temperament, triggers that can cause them to be upset, what calms your child, motivators, areas of strength and realistic goals you have for the year. Make sure to attach a current picture of your child to the letter.
  • Returning to school? Review the IEP: This is a good time to review an existing Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 to update goals and objectives, and make note of gains and new issues that might have surfaced since the last meeting. Prioritizing and documenting new developments, along with any additional concerns, can help the school staff stay informed about a child’s functioning and guide services and supports.
  • Support at IEP Meetings: Understandably, parents can feel anxious about IEP meetings. Aside from learning all you can about your child’s disability and your special education rights and responsibilities, the best way to manage anxious feelings is to bring a support person. This may be your child’s therapist (e.g., speech & language therapist) or a friend familiar with special education. In some cases, parents have a special education attorney present at meetings. In most cases school districts are working collaboratively with the family. 
  • Ask Questions: While school meetings related to the IEP are held annually, take initiative and ask questions when needed or initiate school meetings to discuss important matters about your child. The informative Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) document, A Parent’s Guide, provides critical special education information, and sample letters for parents to effectively communicate with school staff (see "For More Information").