A guest post by Kimberly Wilkerson
Family is everything. Two months ago, at the end of a 12+ year stint in the Portland, OR area, I packed up a house, a speech pathology career and a t-shirt business and moved to Idaho with the sole purpose to be a constant, positive, and fun influence in my nieces’ and nephews’ lives. (And two months later – despite the craziness of “starting over” – it’s absolutely worth it!)
As co-owner of MyFreedom MyFamily T-Shirts (www.myfreedommyfamily.com) and a speech-language pathologist who advocates for kids and their families, I recognize and praise the importance of family as the foundational unit of our society. Our communities need strong families and families are strengthened as each member is valued, loved and supported in the specific ways they individually need to grow and thrive.
Sometimes the younger members of our families need extra support on their path of development and education. U.S. schools provide opportunities for specialized instruction to students who need extra support to succeed in academic requirements. Some of you may have students already receiving special education services and others may be wondering if your child could benefit from such services.
What is special education and how do you know if your child needs it?
Your school provides a team of professionals specialized in areas that target academic learning needs, childhood psychology, speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and in some schools – autism, deaf and hard of hearing and assistive technology. Those of us who work with your children seek to create an environment that provides meaningful and fun opportunities for your child to learn, reach goals, and experience happiness.
If you have specific concerns about your child’s development and academic progress, you have a right to request review and assessment in the particular area(s) of concern. Often, school districts have established intervention processes that can be implemented immediately to provide tiered support for your child with progress monitoring at regular intervals to determine if more support/instruction is required. If “in-class” supports are not demonstrating adequate results, a referral is made to the special education team for a comprehensive evaluation in the area of concern (e.g., academics, speech-language, occupational therapy). Results of the evaluation help guide the team in determining the best plan to support your child at school.
How can you help your child in the special education process?
Parents may wonder if their concerns are relevant. Many assume the challenges they see at home are typical and their child will grow out of them or overcome them with further schooling. For families who frequently move – as is the case with military families – their child may have been referred for in-class supports and interventions and/or special education services, but did not qualify for those services based upon numerous factors. Keep in mind – districts’ criteria for special education services vary and criteria for many services is based up a child’s age at testing. So, if you’re child struggled with saying their “l” and “r” sounds at age 6 years and did not meet criteria for therapy services last year, they very well could be eligible for therapy services this school year.
When it comes to kids, all concerns are relevant, and bringing forward those concerns should always result in increased understanding and knowledge of how to help your child. Even if specialized instruction is not warranted, strategies and tools you can implement at home to help your child can always be provided by teachers and specialists. Though not comprehensive, the following is a list of academic, language, speech, and motor-based skills that are necessary for school success. If your child demonstrates challenges in these areas, it may be advantageous to talk to your school team about his/her progress and performance in class:
Using vocabulary in the correct context
Formulating grammatically correct sentences (oral and written)
Expressing thoughts and ideas in a written format
Ability to retell a story or sequence information
Grade-level math concepts and problems
Using writing tools (e.g., crayons, pens, pencils) effectively
Using cutting and eating tools effectively
Ability to manipulate objects in self-care (e.g., buttoning, tying shoelaces)
Following multi-step directions
Understanding and using age-appropriate social cues in peer and adult interactions
Producing speech sounds correctly in conversation
What is best practice for communicating concerns and collaborating with your school team?
Transparency and clear communication is critical in helping your child receive the supports to meet challenges they’re facing. You should expect it from your school team and they should expect it from you as a parent.
Keep organized records of all screenings, testing, evaluation reports and provided at-home strategies and resources. This is particularly important when frequently relocating to different towns and school districts. Concise, clear information results in a smoother transition for your child and a new school team can easily step in and resume the necessary support more efficiently.
If a new concern arises or if you’re voicing a concern for the first time, take a few moments to document the specific challenges you’re observing, including how those challenges are impacting home and school tasks. If background information is relevant to the observed challenges (e.g., history of multiple ear infections, family history of stuttering, extended absences from school), please document and share that information with the team.
One final thought – I love working with parents who are willing to seek answers, find solutions and help and encourage their child in education-based goals at home. Collaboration between parents and school staff is always better for kids than independent objectives and plans. Kids succeed faster and better when we’re all working together in their behalf.
So, ask questions. Seek resources. Suggest ideas.
When we work collectively to support and strengthen one – we grow power in the family. And that power blesses us as a nation.