Many parents who enter the special education system do so with quite a bit of apprehension. They may have heard horror stories from parents of other children with special needs. They may have had to fight in order to get their children qualified for special education. They may be unsure of what to expect from special education and from their child’s teachers. Overall, there are several things to keep in mind when you are dealing with special education. Keeping these ideas at the forefront of your mind will help you to better advocate for your student and for yourself.
First of all, try to give everyone that you encounter the benefit of the doubt. Most of the people who work in special education truly care about their students and about what they are doing. However, many special education teachers find themselves overwhelmed with paperwork and politics. This does not mean that they are not doing their best for your child. When you are dealing with teachers and administrators try to assume that everyone involved wants what is best for your child. This will make it much easier to negotiate if you do have a disagreement about something.
While everyone at the school wants what is best for your child, remember that legally the school owes you a Ford, not a Cadillac. This means that the school has to ensure that your child is getting an adequate education, but they are not obligated to provide him with the very best education. This sounds cynical, but it is true. Keep in mind that schools have limited resources, including time and money. If you insist that your child needs a one on one aide for the entire school day then that means that the school cannot have that aide working with another child. Your child may do almost as well with an aide for part of the day or with resource room help for difficult subjects.
If you do find that you and your child’s school disagree with a decision that is being made, it is important that you know what your rights are as a parent. The good news is that in many cases parents have the legal advantage. There are websites online that offer free information about the rights of parents and children in special education. Knowing what you rights are will help you to know when you have legal grounds to pursue a disagreement and when the school may be doing everything that they are required to do.
Lastly, be sure to document everything. If your child has an evaluation or an IEP, document it. If she gets a note sent home from school, save the note. If he brings home work samples, save them. Remember that if it is not documented then there is no proof that it actually happened. Documentation serves several purposes. It helps to establish what has and has not been agreed upon. This means that people will be held accountable for what they promise to do. Documentation also serves as a cumulative record of your child’s school years. It can be encouraging to look back and see that skills that he or she has struggled with are now things that have been successfully mastered.