Educational & Transition Support for Military-Connected Children with Special Needs: Military Families with Children Who Have Special Needs Face Amplified Challenges Each Time They Change Schools

Article excerpt

Reprinted with Permission from the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC)

A March 2011 Government Accountability Office report stated that 58% of school districts report challenges in meeting the needs of military-connected students with disabilities. All stakeholders must work together to develop a plan of action if these children are to be successful.

All service members and their families are under increased stress due to high operational tempo, but families whose children have special needs often endure additional stressors. A few examples of these stressors include:

* Concern for the current and future welfare of the child

* Additional financial burden for the family

* Reactions from society and the workplace

* Fear of career detriment

* Feeling of isolation

* Increased need for coordination of services

~ Child Care

~ Medical services

~ Educational Services

Bridging the Gap of Understanding

Military families move three times more frequently than their civilian counterparts, and those who have children with special needs face unique challenges, particularly during deployment or a move. Awareness of their rights and responsibilities is critical to understanding how parents can help their children. These rights and responsibilities include awareness of the following:

Students with special learning needs are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA). Whether moving within or out of a state, the receiving school must accept the current individual education plan and move forward with creating an appropriate plan in concordance with Federal and State laws for special education.

Upon arrival at a new location, it is imperative for parents of children who have special learning needs to maintain open lines of communication with school personnel, beginning with initiating a meeting with special educational professionals.

Parents must also be aware of their rights as guardians, including the knowledge that they can disapprove or disagree with any educational decision made during the Individual Education Plan process.

Parents should be aware of supports that exist outside of the school district framework, including the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) that can facilitate a smooth transition for their child with unique learning challenges. The EFMP program can be a great support network for finding an appropriate school or school district based on the needs of the child. There may be more need for support personnel in school districts with a concentrated military population.

The Military Child Education Coalition is aware of the challenges and has bridged the gap of understanding by providing special educator professionals with an opportunity to learn more about the impact of transition on the education of military-connected children with unique learning challenges through the Special Education Leaders Institute. This two-day professional learning opportunity provides special education professionals and other service providers with an opportunity to share ideas and learn new tools on understanding and assisting families who work with new service providers upon relocation.

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This course allows educators and service providers to create a plan of action to support these families and children as they adjust to unfamiliar teachers, providers, schools and communities. Also benefitting from this course are military personnel who find themselves in a support role. The Military Child Education Coalition has had the privilege of training hundreds of Exceptional Family Member Program employees, School Liaison Officers, and Family Support Volunteers. Federal funding for this crucial training would make it available to every military installation, expanding the knowledge about military-connected children who have special needs and allowing for further support of our military families who serve our nation. …