Finding the Right School for Your Child with Special Needs
This week we have the wonderful Jenny Wise back again to share her experience and advice on finding the perfect school for your special needs child. Jenny Wise is passionate about giving her children the best education possible, and doing so from home. Summer time often means moving and planning for the upcoming school year. Whether you are looking for IEP advice, what to look for in a school, or exploring all of your educational options - Jenny has insights for you! You can find even more from Jenny on her website, Special Home Educator.
Once you’ve made the decision to move, there are several factors that come into play such as the safety of the neighborhood, finding a new pediatrician or locating the best parks and playgrounds. As the parent of a special needs child, an important factor to consider is how to find the right school to meet your expectations and your child’s needs.
Is My Child Eligible for Special Education Services?
Each year over 6.8 million children in the U.S. receive special education services designed to meet his or her unique needs and assist them in learning the skills and information set forth in the general education curriculum. Defined, special education is “instruction that is specially designed to meet the unique needs of children who have disabilities.” The definition is laid out by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA,) with the definition of a disability including the following 13 categories: autism, deafness, deaf-blindness, hearing impairment, intellectual disabilities, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, serious emotional disturbance, specific learning disability, speech/language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment.
To determine if your child is eligible for special education services, you can ask the school to evaluate your child. However, if the school thinks your child may have a disability, they will often request your permission to perform an evaluation.
The Importance of an IEP
If your child is to receive special education services, IDEA requires public schools to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to identify your child’s learning needs as well as the services the school will provide. According to parent resource Understood, the IEP is a legally binding document and the school must provide everything laid out in the IEP. A typical IEP will include the following:
· A statement of your child’s present level of performance and their annual educational goals
· Special education services the school will provide to your child to help them meet outlined
educational goals, including modifications and accommodations
· A detailed plan for how the school will measure your child’s educational progress
· For high school children, the IEP will include a preparation plan for life after high school
An IEP involves assessment of your child by qualified individuals specific to your child’s needs such as a special educator, psychologist, physical therapist, or vision/hearing specialist. According to Kids Health, once an IEP is in place, the services and goals it outlines can often be provided in a standard school environment such as a regular classroom or special resource room, which can serve as a group environment for children with similar needs. If your child requires a higher level of intervention, they may be placed in a special education room where the teacher has specialized training in helping children with special needs. These classrooms typically have fewer students than a regular classroom. Children typically spend most of the day in a special education classroom, but may join regular classes for nonacademic activities such as art or gym.
Visit Prospective Schools
Before you make the move, call prospective schools and set up visits, being sure to let them know that your child has an IEP. If you are looking into placing your child in a private or charter school, Noodle suggests asking if they are accepting new students with special needs, as some have waiting lists or aren’t equipped to meet the needs of your child. It is important that you are upfront and honest about your child’s special needs to avoid wasting time on schools or programs that don’t meet your expectations and your child’s needs.
Consider visiting schools to get an idea of the school environment, meet the principal, and possibly meet with teachers and look in on a class or two. As you make the choice as to what school is best for your child, remember that every situation is unique, and the best school for your child may not be the best for another.
Thank you Jenny for sharing your wisdom and experience with our community. If you are a new parent to the world of special needs, I suggest you check out some of my previous blog posts all about autism and finding the best therapies to meet your child's needs.