Parents Faced with Navigating the Special Education Maze

It happens every day. Parents of a child who is newly diagnosed with a developmental disability find themselves thrust into a new world, walking down a road they never expected to take.

ASD2Parents of children diagnosed with mild disabilities usually hope that specialized services or treatments will prepare their children to live independent lives. Parents of children who have more severe disabilities often feel an initial sense of despair, followed by a determination to help their child as much as they can.

Whether the diagnosis was expected or not, parents are often overwhelmed with the implications of raising a child with a disability. Questions include: What services are available for our family? How do I find the best experts in the field, and will I have access to them? What do other parents in my situation do? What will school look like?

There’s a huge learning curve.

ASD1But knowledge is power, and many parents find themselves hungrily seeking out all the information they can about their child’s disability. Besides reading books and searching the internet, many parents glean crucial information from other parents by attending disability-specific support groups. Experienced parents are usually willing to pass on their own knowledge. This is particularly important when it comes to navigating the special education maze.

By federal law, school districts are responsible for providing services and educating preschool children who have disabilities for ages 3 through 5. Eligible children may continue to receive services through public schools until they are 22 years old.

Parents do not have to utilize school district services. Some parents decide upon alternative education options ranging from private schools to homeschooling. In rare cases, residential services are sought.

Most students receive education and related services through their local school district. Understanding the school system is a daunting prospect for any parent. For example, a child who has moderate to severe autism will often be assigned a “team” of experts including a speech therapist, occupational therapist, special education representative, school psychologist and more.

Everyday classroom personnel may include a head teacher and several classroom aides, depending on the child’s placement. In addition, parents need to figure out special education jargon or remain forever mystified, especially when talking with special education administrators.

There’s no way around it. Most parents have to work hard to ensure their child receives the best available services.  To make the process as smooth as possible parents can:

  • Read all printed information about their child’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 
  • Find out from a variety of parents which services children who have similar disabilities receive, and if parents had to lobby to receive them. If so, how?
  • Pay a visit to all suggested school placements. How does the classroom environment feel? Do the children appear happy or at least relatively calm? Would you feel okay attending this class?  What happens when a child has a tantrum or “meltdown?” How often do such events occur?
  • Bring an advocate to school meetings if there are disagreements with the district about your child’s services.
  • If your child’s class has teacher aides, be sure to talk with them about how your child is progressing. Sometimes a lot of important information is gleaned from candid aides who work one-on-one with your child.

SunnySide30Once your child is regularly attending class, try to spend some time in the classroom to really get a feel for what goes on, especially if your child has little or no language. Good teachers respond favorably to well-informed, involved parents.

Remember, determining your child’s needs and knowing your student’s rights go a long way toward helping you become an important team member and effective advocate for your child.

What are your thoughts or experiences with special services for children who have disabilities? Please leave a comment.


One thought on “Parents Faced with Navigating the Special Education Maze”

  1. So many children are being misdiagnosed with autism these days. Special education officials need to be on the look out for parents who push their doctors, or hire “special education advocates” to insist their children are really autistic when there is no OFFICIAL autism diagnosis for the child. In California, there is rampant abuse of the autism label among parents of young children trying to get their children extra help in the classroom, when if you look at these children, they are talking normally, walking, writing, reading and doing everything normal, but may only be “mentally ill” with bipolar, depression or have aphasia (loss of speech) or dysphasia (difficulty comprehending speech) due to subclinical or obvious seizures. Truly a problem situation that is rooted in the overall ignorance and confidence of doctors, psychologists, special education administrators and school psychologists to properly discern who is autistic and who is not. And WHAT other disorders and conditions can mimic autism. A truly autistic person always presents as being in their own world, they DO NOT answer your questions like normal non autistic children! You will see echolalia (repeating the same sentences or words) or you’ll see obsession on ONE or TWO subjects. You’ll see obsession on routines and rituals. Don’t be fooled by parents who want their children to be autistic because they themselves are mentally ill and don’t know how to care for their children. Woodside Elementary. The last straw was when yet ANOTHER mom told me her child was diagnosed with “high functioning” autism, but “may be just PDD (pervasive developmental disorder)” When I asked her, “Well, does it bother you that your son may be labeled with autism when he really doesn’t have it?” the mother said, “I don’t really care. So long as he gets the services he needs in school.” There you have folks. The autism label is no longer about autism, it’s about people like Jenny McCarthy who never had an autistic child, but rode the autism wave and made millions off her books, and parents who don’t really have autistic children but are now costing taxpayers millions by having their children diagnosed with autism “for the services” and autism researchers who don’t give care if they are really including real autistic children and adults in their studies, cuz it’s just about money. No wonder there is an “epidemic” of autism, because there is an “epidemic” of people who are so CLUELESS about what autism is and isn’t it has created MASS chaos and confusion. Wake up people.

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