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Special Needs and Education: Be an Advocate

Some children require extra attention and time in order to succeed in the classroom. Often, these children are referred to as having “special needs” and those needs can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. But if you are a parent of a special needs child, there is a system in place to ensure your child can thrive. Understanding this system will enable you to be an active player in their success.

First of all, you’re the parent — you know your child best. If you start to notice that your child is falling behind or may require some extra attention, inquire with your school regarding an IEP. An IEP is an individualized education program and it’s designed to fit your child’s specific needs. To get this process started, it’s important to keep an open line of communication with the teachers and administration. An IEP is an evolutionary program or plan that shifts to accommodate your child’s most immediate needs.

Your child will likely be assigned an aide. This aide’s job is to be discreet, while helping your child follow the general instructions of the class. Remember: it is not the aide’s job to teach children things they don’t know — that is still a teacher’s responsibility. This is a team effort! Additionally, if you would like to bring an aide of your choice onto your team, most public school systems work with approved aides that will come onsite specifically for your child.

Special needs don’t just affect kids — it’s a process that will impact a child into their adult life. It’s important to remember that an IEP or special education program can (and must) be legally provided for an individual until they are 21 years old. Be an advocate for your child and do not be afraid to speak up. If you feel the IEP is not working for your child you can request a new one at anytime. Needs will grow and dissipate throughout an individual’s academic life and it’s necessary to accommodate those changes.

Everyone learns differently, and that’s okay. There is no shame in seeking help for your child in a discreet and respectful way, but remember, the education process continues at home, as well. You need to help reinforce the specialized education program even when the child is not at school. This will build individual academic strength and so they can feel supported and confident in their skills.