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Special Help for Special Kids

Public schools need to make an education available to everyone, and sometimes that means making special accomodations for students with special needs.  So if you have a child with special needs, you’ll go to the school and they’ll explain the available services, right?  Wrong. Schools have a lot of students and limited budgets.  Special services are expensive, especially because different things are needed by different students.  They even try to avoid promising things that don’t cost money.  Any written agreements tie their hands.

Not a confrontational person?  That’s okay.  You don’t have to argue, beg and be difficult. You do have to take the time to learn what your child’s rights are and ask for them in the correct way. The schools are governed by laws. If you ask for something specific that is available and appropriate, they will comply.  If you just mention to the principal that your child is struggling, nothing will happen.  There’s only one person (well, two in a two-parent household) who is going to advocate for your child. Without your help, your child will slide along while the schools meet the needs of the majority as best they can.

So what help is available from the public schools?

Before Kindergarten

Special students often need preparation for Kindergarten.  There are services available, including assessment, therapy and preschool programs. When they’re too young for the school to step in, services are available at the Regional Center.

Assessments

The school will conduct tests to identify special needs. If you disagree with the results, you have the opportunity to get your own outside evaluation, but you might as well start with the school’s assessments.

IEPs and 504s

These are written contracts between the school, parent and (when they’re old enough) child.  Agreements can include anything from having the child sit in the front of class to a school-provided laptop to an aide. Once you have an agreement in place, the school must review it with you every year.

Technology

There is so much technology now that can help a person with special needs. Your teacher or school may not know what’s available, so it’s up to you to find out what tools are out there that can help your child. The TECH Center at TASK is a good place to start.

How do you learn what you need to know?

There is a great non-profit organization called TASK: Team of Advocates for Special Kids. They hold workshops for parents in everything from legal rights to how to negotiate an IEP or 504. Their specialists are also available to work with you one-on-one.  Their services are very affordable, for example, membership is $30/year per family, and a full day workshop is only $35.

Some disabilities are obvious. Many are not. Just because it’s not obvious to everyone doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  There are also many levels of functioning for special kids. You want to get enough help for your child so that they can learn with others their age, while allowing them to accomplish what they’re able to. Getting individualized help like that requires a team of people. You, as the parent are the team leader. You’ll also need resources to educate you and to assist your child, inlcuding the school, doctor, therapist. etc. Every child should go as far as their abilities can take them.