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September 5, 2012

Special Needs Advice from a Seasoned Traveler in Negotiating Educational Storms

No matter how old your special needs child is, eventually he or she will attend school and issues with teachers/administrators will arise.

Depending on the school your child attends, you may face issues throughout the year or just transitional issues with each new class/teacher. If your child is in public school you'll likely go through the IEP process.

Having a written plan is great, but you still have to make sure it's implemented.

If your child is in private school, you'll need to work with the administration and teachers to set up an educational plan.

Georgians also have the option of using the SB10 special needs scholarship to help fund private school tuition; however, once you elect the scholarship you give up your rights to the written IEP.

That said, you can still find a school that will work with your child within the guidelines written in your IEP.

Regardless of your situation, as a parent, you are your child's best advocate. That means:

  1. Always Be Prepared: Keep written notes and documents at close hand.
  2. Be Proactive: Set up private meetings with teachers at the beginning of each year.
  3. Communicate Constantly: with teachers, preferably via email so you have all the info in writing.
  4. Know Your Child's Best Needs: What works best for your child before you go into meetings, such flexibility in schedules, modification of work, asking for a particular teacher, extra tutoring etc...
  5. Have an Alternate Plan: If your current educational plan isn't working then figure out what changes your child needs to succeed.
  6. Never Panic: Work through the crisis in your head and on paper before you go into meetings.
As the parent of two SNKs, I've been through dozens of these meetings in more types of schools than I care to imagine: Montessori, Public, Charter & Private. Every year, both of my kids face crises that always have to be dealt with immediately.

I learned a long time ago to keep written records of everything, and I learned what works best for each of my children. You never know when you'll have to face a SUDDEN STORM: change in doctors or medication which effects your child's school performance, a sudden change in teachers that just doesn't work, an illness that throws a complete wrench in your child's routine or an annual transition to a new classroom/school that just doesn't work out.

This year our son, moved to middle school at his private school. He went from 1 teacher/1 classroom to 3 teachers/3 classrooms. Can you spell HURRICANE? And we saw it coming, but still weren't prepared.

One month later it was fast turning into a Category 5.

Today I went into a teacher meeting with a worse case scenario--the possibility of having to move the child back to his teacher/classroom from last year who would continue teaching him his current curriculum without changing classes.

I thought that was going to be the end result and was prepared for it. Instead I found that the teachers were all willing to work with our child through a series of modifications.

In other words, we modified his plan, rather than scraping it and going with a new one. We're going to ride out this storm head on, but we're battening down all the hatches!

At the same time we let the teachers know that we are 100% on board with enforcing the new plan on our end. If they send home written homework assignments we will see that they are finished correctly, and turn back in. We will work on our child's organization skills (zero) with his teachers' help.

Long story short, no education plan will work unless every player--teachers, administrators, students and parents--is completely on board and willing to work together to ride out the rough seas.

We are all in the Educational Boat together!