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Special Needs – Parents

Special Needs – Information for Parents
A child with special needs is someone who requires specific support for health, intellectual, emotional, or physical development needs. All children share the same basic needs: to be accepted, cared for, loved, valued, and supported. As a parent, getting the information and help you need to support your child will promote their success.
This podcast will give you more information about your rights as a parent raising a child with special needs, an explanation of the tools and supports available, and tips for identifying inclusive child care programs and schools.

So, who is a child with special needs? A child with special needs experiences some delays or differences in their development. Children with special needs are also referred to as children with disabilities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, children with special needs have physical or mental disabilities that may limit them from “major life activities” such as breathing, learning, hearing, seeing, speaking, or walking.
There are many different types of special needs, and a child may have a combination of disabilities that may make learning or other activities more difficult. Some areas of developmental delays or disabilities include communication, emotional and social, intellectual, and physical.

It is common and understandable for parents who have learned that their child has special needs to react with strong emotions such as denial, anger, fear, or guilt. Some parents feel alone in their experience or worry about their child’s future. By recognizing and working through your emotions, you will be better able to meet the needs of your child, family, and yourself. You can learn to manage your emotions with some of these tips:

  • Communicating with others about how you are feeling.
  • Spending time with your child – and having fun while doing so!
  • Seeking help from family, friends, and local support groups in your area for parents who have children with special needs.
  • Learning more about your child’s special needs and educational and legal rights.
  • Taking care of yourself. It is difficult to meet the needs of your family and child
  • if your own needs have not been met. Remember to rest, exercise, eat regularly, and give yourself time to relax.
  • Seeking family counseling if your emotions and responsibilities are overwhelming.

Fortunately, you and your child have legal rights to ensure that appropriate education and services are received. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (also referred to as IDEA) is a federal law that protects a child with special needs by:

  • Allowing parents or schools to request an evaluation for a child if they suspect that they may have special needs.
  • Requiring public schools to provide free public education to children with identified special needs.
  • Requiring each child with special needs to have an Individualized Family Service Plan (known as IFSP) or Individualized Education Program (known as IEP).
  • Giving parents the right to a due process hearing if they disagree with any decisions regarding their child’s evaluation, IFSP, or IEP.

So, what is an IFSP or IEP? An Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP, helps families and professionals support a child from birth to 3 years old who may have special needs. The IFSP describes the child’s current levels of development, lists the resources, priorities, and concerns of the child and family, sets measurable goals for the next 6-­‐12 months, and determines which early intervention services such as hearing services, home visits, or nutrition counseling will be most beneficial to the child. The IFSP team includes a parent or legal guardian, service coordinator, professional who is conducting the assessment of the child, and the people who will provide services. Participants may also include additional family members, a medical practitioner, therapist, social worker, or other professionals. The IFSP team meets every 6 months during the school year.

An Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is required by public schools for each child with special needs between ages 3 and 21 years. The IEP includes describing the special needs based upon an assessment; outlining the child’s special education; setting annual, measurable goals for the child’s education and/or behavioral growth; and listing additional services the child may need to learn and progress in school such as occupational and physical therapy, assistive technology, or special accommodations. The IEP team includes a parent or legal guardian, caregiver or teacher, special education teacher, related service provider or specialist, representative from the school district, and if necessary, an interpreter. This team may meet at least once during the school year.

You have the right to be involved in your child’s education. At least once a year, you will meet with your child’s IFSP or IEP team to discuss your child’s progress and set new goals for the next year. If you do not agree with the plan that the team has made, you may undergo mediation or due process with an advocate or lawyer to help settle disagreements with the team. Throughout the year, it is important to communicate with the professionals working with your child. It is helpful to keep copies of academic records, IFSPs or IEPs, medical records, and all therapy notes in a folder or binder you can bring with you to meetings.

Although your child may require special care or services, they may not need to attend a specialized school. Inclusion programs allow all children, with or without special needs, to learn in the same environment with the services and support they need to be successful. Children may receive assistance in these settings. Some characteristics of an inclusive environment that benefits all children include:

  • Age appropriate expectations – Adults are more likely to have developmentally appropriate expectations for a child with special needs in an integrated setting, which may help intellectual, physical, and social growth.
  • Understanding differences – Children learn to understand and accept each other’s individual differences.
  • Specialized instruction – Even though each child has different educational goals, child care providers and teachers make sure that their teaching methods meet the needs of each child.
  • Focusing on strengths and abilities, providing support when necessary.
  • Open communication – Child care providers and teachers communicate openly and regularly with parents and other professionals, making you meaningful participants in your child’s success. All professionals require your written, informed consent before sharing any confidential information regarding your child.
  • Peer role models – Children have an opportunity to be role models for each other as they develop social skills.
  • Relationships – Friendships, social relationships, empathy, and tolerance are encouraged between all children.

Raising a child with special needs may be both challenging and rewarding. Remember that you are not alone. You have many resources to help you learn more about your child’s special needs, including your child’s school, the state health department, and other parents. Ask questions and get the help you need to help your child.
To download a copy of our “Special Needs – For Parents” brochure and to access additional brochures and podcasts on a variety of parenting topics, visit Children’s Home Society of California’s website at www.chs-­‐ca.org.

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