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Special Needs – Parents

Information for Parents

If you have a child with special needs, you know they require special care for emotional, health, intellectual, or physical reasons. A child with special needs is more like other children than unlike them, because all children share the same basic needs: acceptance, care, challenges, love, and support. As a parent, getting the information and help you need to provide the best care for your child will promote his success.

This podcast will give you more information of your rights as a parent raising a child with special needs and tips on how to navigate the system and promote inclusion for your child.

So what qualifies a child with special needs? Also referred to as children with disabilities, these are children who experience some delays in development. 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 make learning or other activities more difficult. Areas of developmental delays include communication, emotional and social, intellectual, and physical.

It is common and understandable for parents who learn 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 that their child will not have a happy life. By recognizing and working through your emotions, you will be able to better 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); and
  • 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 with 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 may meet every 6 months at any time 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; 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 such as occupational and physical therapy. The IEP team includes a parent or legal guardian, caregiver or teacher, special education teacher, related service provider, representative from the school district, and if necessary, an interpreter. This team may meet at any time during the school year.

You have the right to be involved in your child’s education. Once a year, you will meet with your child’s IFSP or IEP team to discuss your child’s progress and to set new goals for the next year. If you don’t agree with the plan that the team has made, you may undergo mediation 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.

Although your child requires special care or services, he may not need to attend a special school. Inclusion allows 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 special services in these settings. Some characteristics of an inclusive environment that benefits all children include:

  • Age-appropriate expectations – Adults are more likely to place age-appropriate demands on a child with special needs in an integrated setting, which may help intellectual, physical, and social growth.
  • Understanding differences – Children understand and accept each other and their 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.
  • Strengths-based approach - 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 without special needs may serve as role models for children with special needs.
  • Relationships – Friendships and social relationships are encouraged between children with and without disabilities.

Raising a child with special needs may be both challenging and rewarding, but 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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