Supporting Parents of Students With Special Needs
Even as young children, we are able to identify a behaviour that is not the norm for our peer group. For example, we may be able to pick out the one child in the classroom who seems a little more agitated than the others, who is a little louder, and who acts a little more out of control. A youngster on the other side of the room is visibly shaken. Another individual has difficulty reading.
All of this may also be obvious to a teacher, who can evaluate a child in relation to the other students in the class. However, because the parent is not present in the classroom, it is possible that they are unable to recognise this fact.
It’s possible that a particular behaviour won’t seem out of the ordinary to a parent. The first thing that we as parents notice about our children is that they are reserved, selective, or argumentative. We have not seen this behaviour in our child and therefore cannot diagnose him or her as anxious, having a sensory disorder, or being oppositionally defiant. We observe behaviours that we wish to change rather than simply categorise.
A GAP IN EXPERIENCE AND UNDERSTANDING
This creates a gap between parents and educators in terms of their experiences, levels of understanding, and levels of communication. There is a possibility that education specialists will speak in a jargon that is difficult for parents to comprehend. Parents can benefit from hearing an educator’s point of view when it comes to how their child’s behaviour compares to that of his or her peers and when it comes to the demonstration of behaviours.
The majority of the time, parents are not experts on mental health; however, they are experts when it comes to knowing their children. There is a good reason to conduct an investigation whenever they have the impression that something is off. However, the vast majority of parents who have discussed their experiences with me and told me they have asked for assistance for their children have not initially been granted it. Pediatricians may advise parents to enforce rules and regulations more strictly. It’s possible that your teachers will tell you, “He is not eligible for services.”
The majority of people with learning disabilities, the majority of people with mental health disabilities, and many people with physical health disabilities do not disclose their condition. Hidden disabilities are notoriously difficult to diagnose and diagnose correctly. Educators, in general, do not meet the criteria for this qualification because it requires training in psychological assessment and the use of predetermined evaluation methods.
The education departments of each state have criteria that must be met before a child can be assessed and evaluated for special education services; however, it is not uncommon for children to be denied the opportunity to be assessed and evaluated. It is possible that an evaluation will come about as a result of a discussion between the parent and the teacher or principal; however, parents are frequently required to make multiple requests in order to push the issue. In addition, there is a possibility that parents do not comprehend the necessity of submitting written evaluation requests.
Parents who are unfamiliar with the process of creating an individualised education programme (IEP) are then frustrated and confused. Worse yet, some parents agree to their children’s initial denial of services, which results in their children not being evaluated.
In most cases, these issues arise due to a lack of knowledge on the part of educators. The majority of education programmes do not require a class on children with exceptional needs in order to prepare teachers for general education settings (gifted, special education etc.). Even though each state has tests and other evaluations to determine whether or not a graduate of an education programme has the necessary knowledge, it is still possible for a teacher to be unaware of state regulations or unable to identify students with special needs.
Teachers and principals are often seen as the go-to authorities by parents. Parents of children who are having difficulty often find themselves in the difficult position of not knowing what to do when a school refuses to evaluate their child. It’s possible that advocacy groups can be of assistance, but first a parent needs to be aware that there is assistance available from outside sources before they will seek it out. Many parents are unaware that schools are required to conduct evaluations of their children, and even when they are aware of this obligation, they may not know how to persuade schools to comply with their evaluation request.
DIRECTING PARENTS TO ORGANIZATIONS THAT CAN HELP
It would be beneficial if school personnel pointed parents in the direction of the appropriate state advocacy organisation that is listed by the Center for Parent Information and Resources. This would direct parents in the direction of a group that could assist them in finding answers to their questions.
Our parent organisation in Kansas, which is called Families Together, is responsible for providing responses to questions, hosting informational and training sessions for parents and education advocates, and sharing documents with those individuals. My family was unaware that this organisation existed for quite some time because no one associated with the school bothered to inform them of its existence. During that time, we had the sensation of being cut off and perplexed. If only a teacher, the principal, or another member of the district staff had discussed this, we could have avoided all of this confusion.
It is hoped that a parent can be the one to initiate an evaluation and assessment. The individual in question will subsequently be bombarded with a plethora of acronyms and other specialised terms, such as IDEA, IEP, BIP, and 504.
There was never a time when the evaluation process or specific terms like IDEA, IEP, or 504 were explained to me, and I have never met a parent for whom this did take place. My personal experience has shown that there was never a time when this took place. The method of obtaining assistance for a child who is having difficulty is one that is bureaucratic and complex, and for the most part, teachers do not guide parents through the process.
In most cases, parents do not have the level of understanding required to effectively represent their children throughout this process if they have not sought assistance from an education advocacy group. The next step that should be taken after an assessment and evaluation of a child has been completed, and if the child is determined to require special services to support that child’s education, then the parents of the child should be educated about this process. Even a frequently asked questions website for the district would be useful. It is important for parents to be involved in their child’s education; however, it is difficult to make a contribution if one does not have a solid understanding of the framework for special education services and of the ways in which accommodations can be implemented to assist a child in achieving their goals.
There are some educators and schools that are truly remarkable. However, in my roles as a college professor and the parent of a child who has an individualised education programme (IEP), I have come across students who either did not receive any support during their K–12 years or received only a minimal amount of support to help them navigate the educational system. As soon as a parent approaches a teacher and says, “I’m worried that Olivia seems to be struggling,” we have an opportunity to improve things.