4 Tips To Finding The Right School For Your Child With Special Needs
By: Suzie Dalien, M.Ed.
Parenting a child with special needs presents its own unique set of challenges and obstacles that need to be overcome in order to see your child succeed and be their very best. If you’re like most parents, it’s tempting to keep your child to yourself, simply because you know what methods of care work best for them. It’s hard to trust your child to another set of capable hands, even if the child doesn’t have special needs, and no more is it harder than when your child reaches school age and needs to begin their educational career.
Luckily, most schools offer a special education program that can tailor your child’s education to fit their own limitations while offering standard concepts and ideas. Whether it is physical, mental, behavioral or emotional, a special education teacher is trained to handle a variety of disabilities in a caring, nurturing environment. Choosing a school that’s appropriate for your child, however, can be a struggle, as not all schools are created equally. We’ve provided a few tips to help you choose the right school for your child with special needs.
1. Get information from your local disability services.
These organizations are trained to deal with the special education programs that are available in most schools, and can provide you with information on which schools have the services to best fit your child’s special accommodations. If your child received pre-school special education through a source other than a traditional school, make time to speak with those officials to gain insight on the best course of action.
2. Contact your school district’s Board of Education.
Who better than to tell you in-depth about special education services than the organization that runs the program? Some schools do not participate in special education programs and follow a school structure known as full inclusion – all children learn together at the same time, regardless of disabilities or limitations. It’s best to check with the Board of Education before enrolling your child in a specific school to make sure they can handle your child’s special needs. The transition from home to school can be a troubling one for children; make every effort to ensure that experience will only happen once.
3. Visit the schools you are considering.
If your town or community has more than one school to choose from, contact each school individually to set up a time to tour the facilities. Gathering information from outside sources will provide you with a general idea of the special education programs and school structure, but it takes actual hands-on interaction in order to make the right decision. Speak with the school’s teachers, school officials and other paraeducators that might have a hand in your child’s education. Prepare a list of questions you would like answers to, and take notes along the way so you can easily refer to them later. There’s no harm in thoroughly inspecting a school before making a decision; on the contrary, your research will help your child succeed in reaching their educational goals.
4. Consider the typical size of the classroom.
In America, the standard size of a typical classroom consists of anywhere between 20 and 30 children, on average. For a child with special needs, being around that many children on a daily basis might cause agitation, anxiety or frustration. Some schools have a self-contained classroom design, in which children with special needs are put into smaller groups in a calmer environment; this allows them to receive more one-on-one attention away from the pressures of their peers. Other schools might choose to go with a separate classroom environment, which means special education is taught away from the regular classroom during the course of the school day. A school might choose to use partial inclusion methods, as well, which means a child with special needs could spend part of the day in a regular classroom and the rest in special education classes.
Finding the best method that works for your child is the ultimate key to educational success, but it might require a bit of dedicated research before you reach a final conclusion.
Standards of Special Education
Every child from the age of 3 on up has the right to a free and standard education in the United States, even if they require the assistance of special education programs. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 mandated that all states offer the ability to learn to children of eligible school age, regardless of limitations or disability. In 1990, this act was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the No Child Left Behind Act followed in 2001.
The history of special education doesn’t go back very far. Before EAHCA was signed into law, children with disabilities were often excluded from regular schooling. Teachers were not equipped to handle specific disabilities, which meant these children were often either homeschooled or sent to an institution that could handle their limitations. It was a heartbreaking decision for a parent to make, but modern times afford your child with special needs the same chance at a standard education as the rest of the children. Making an informed decision about the school system that will provide a learning environment for your child can mean the difference between success and struggle.
Schools that offer a special education program will require you to participate in creating an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to set forth concise, definable goals the educators will work towards with your child during their school year. This helps you mark milestones, celebrate educational achievements and know what to work on with your child outside of the school environment.
Special Education Resource understands that choosing the right school is critical to your child succeed in meeting their goals. There is no “right path” or “wrong path” to take when it comes to learning, and should be done at a child’s own pace. Alternatively, seeking the help of supplemental special education services can inspire confidence, self-esteem and pride in your child with special needs.
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