Preparing for Your Child's Special Education: Information of Interest to People with Disabilities and Other Special Needs and Their Families

Article excerpt

Welcome to a new school year. Parents of children with learning disabilities or other special needs face a range of challenges as they attempt to ensure their children get the education they deserve. It can be daunting. Whether you're a parent who has already entered this world or you have a child who's just started school, we have suggestions to make your efforts more manageable. If your child's still in pre-school, don't stop reading. This article's perfectly timed for you because the special education (SpEd) laws are written to benefit children age 3 through 21. The more time you have to prepare, the better off you and your child will be.

Our forst and most important tip

Know the laws that protect your child's right to a free public education. Know them well; they're the platform you'll stand on often as your child progresses through school.

* Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law that eliminates discrimination against children with disabilities in any program or activity offered by public schools that are funded by the federal government. The school must make accommodations for your child, but the law doesn't require the school to provide any guarantee for academic achievement.

* The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is an educational benefit law. It requires the school to provide additional programs and services that aren't available to children without disabilities. Additionally, the school's held accountable for ensuring improved results in your child's grades. States interpret and apply this law in differing ways, so you should also know your state's position.

There's more to know than we can provide here so we've included a list of Web sites about the laws and related information. (If you don't have a computer or aren't Internet savvy, visit your public library. You'll find computers and people who can help.) Visit the sites. There'll be times you'll need to stand up for your child's rights. Knowing the law supports you makes it easier.

More tips to help you prepare

Build your network. Get to know others who'll share their experiences, provide information and resources, and give you moral support. Ask around for names of parents whose children receive SpEd services. Interview local SpEd advocates to get a sense of what you may face. Join chapters of organizations related to your child's disability. Look into Internet support groups that share experiences and answer questions (such as the Coalition of Special Education Parents, a Yahoo?[R] group that restricts school employees and school attorneys from membership).

Meet with your school's SpEd people. Ask for an informational interview (even if your child hasn't begun school). Letting them know you're planning ahead will signal that you're serious about your child's education. Ask about their evaluation process and services. Get copies of material they give to parents (such as a brochure or statement of your rights). Have them explain Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

Be ready to prove your child's need for services. Some disabilities are more apparent than others and may be overlooked in an evaluation. If a doctor's diagnosis qualifies your child for SpEd, make copies of documentation to submit with your request. An evaluation will still be done, but it's less likely they'll deny services. Remember: your school has limited funds and resources, and they'll be reluctant to spend them. If they deny your child, but you know there's need, ask for an outside evaluation.

Get organized. Stay organized. Three-ring binders will keep track of all the documentation you'll accumulate. Chronological order makes it easier to find information when you need it. When you must share your documents, make copies; never give out originals. File material promptly so nothing is lost and filing doesn't become a chore.

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Document meetings and conversations. …