Chances are, your child spends much of his or her day in a setting outside your home. Whether it be a public school, private school, daycare or therapeutic or vocational training program, knowing your child is being well-educated and well-cared for is critically important. But finding the right setting for your child with special needs can be challenging. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your son or daughter is receiving the top-notch care and educational services he or she deserves.
1. Know your child’s rights
According to Disability World “Federal law mandates that each and every child is to receive an education that is both free and appropriate in an environment that is the least restrictive possible. … There are three federal laws that apply specifically to students with disabilities: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).”
Complicating matters, each state interprets federal law differently. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the laws in your home state.
2. Have your child evaluated
Not sure what setting is appropriate for your child? You are entitled to a free evaluation by your home school’s study team. Typically, such evaluations include psychological, speech, physical, educational and occupational therapy assessments. Depending on the results of the evaluation, children remaining in the public school system may be given an IEP that will approve your child for whatever services are deemed necessary. This may also determine whether your child qualifies for a school especially for students with special needs.
3. Visit multiple schools
If possible, visit more than one school or setting to determine what would be the best fit for your child. Significant variabilities exist between schools in terms of their campuses, accommodations, staffing, curricula and inclusion policies.
4. Meet individually with administrators
Though school tours are helpful, when your child has special needs, it’s essential to explore whether the school can accommodate them. Make sure to be candid about your child’s needs even if this may result in him being denied admission. It’s preferable to know that a school is not appropriate before you enroll your child. Once your child begins attending school, administrators and teachers should be readily available to provide progress reports and address concerns.
5. Get references
Don’t take the school’s word for it, ask for references from other parents who have children enrolled there. They are more likely to be forthcoming about the strengths and weaknesses of the school.
6. Be aware of the school’s staffing
Ask about class size and student: teacher ratios as well as whether the school has onsite clinical staff. Find out how many minutes per week of therapy your child will receive. In private school settings, is therapy part of the tuition or is it extra? Is 1:1 therapy provided or will your child receive therapy in a group?
7. How are behavioral issues handled?
You will want to know this whether your child has behavioral issues or not. If he does have behavioral issues, you’ll want to make sure the school manages them in a way that’s in keeping with your belief system. If your child doesn’t have behavioral issues, make sure that being around other students who are frequently disruptive won’t interfere with her learning, emotional or physical well-being.
8. What is the school’s policy on bullying?
Be sure you’re knowledgeable about the school’s bullying policy. As children with disabilities are more likely to experience bullying, you’ll want to know that school administrators and teachers take it seriously and will intervene immediately.
9. Does the school offer courses or activities that your child can access?
Confirm that the school is fully accessible for students with physical and learning differences. Ideally, your child should be able to participate in all learning and recreational opportunities provided at her school.
10. Take children’s feedback seriously
Most kids complain about school on occasion. But if your child seems frightened, regularly complains about feeling sick or is habitually resistant to attending school, pay attention. Particularly with non-verbal children, it can be tough to get to the bottom of what’s going on at school. Make sure to check in with teachers and administrators to determine what may be fueling your child’s reluctance. Ideally, sit in on classes, or visit at recess or lunchtime, to make sure your child is safe, comfortable and happy.