Special Needs Education: What to Expect

back to school

chalkboard, special education, learning disabledAs we count down the days to back to school, the Daily Buzz talks with moms and public school teachers about what you and your child can expect in the coming year.

Today special education teacher and behavior consultant 2mommies4g gives us the inside scoop about what to expect with special needs education.


If a parent thinks her child may have special needs or a learning disability, what should she do?

Set up a meeting with the child's teacher to discuss your concerns. The teacher will be able to direct you from there.

What do parents need to know about special needs education in public schools? What resources are available for special needs kids in public school?

At every Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting, the parent receives a handbook that explains in detail the rights they have. READ IT! Special Education is broad in the services it can provide, and each child is different. The IEP team, which includes the parent, will work together to determine the best services for the individual child.  Resources vary by district, school, and exceptionality. If a child truly needs something to "level the academic playing field," the district will provide it, usually.

What is an Individual Education Program (IEP)?

An IEP is a plan that has been laid out by the IEP team that says what the school and district is legally bound to do and provide for the exceptional child. It contains several parts including basic info on the child, evaluation information, behavior info, health info, goals and objectives, accommodations and modifications the child needs, all related services a child receives, and who is responsible for what, as well as the placement in the least restrictive environment and the number of minutes the child receives services. There are other little things on the IEP as well, but those are the main things.

If your child has already had a special ed referral, what can you expect in the first few weeks of school? How often should parents be expected to connect with the school going forward?

The Pupil Appraisal office has timelines they work by, so if a child has been referred and school is starting back up, you can expect that your child will begin to be evaluated and administered a diagnostic test by a school psychologist or educational diagnostician. These people will contact the parent, but if a parent wants to call and check in right as school is beginning, that's fine.

Communication is a very good thing and doesn't hurt anyone. This is something that takes a little time, so a phone call every day is not needed. However, maybe after the initial phone, call to get an overview of what will happen with your child. You can follow up as the estimated timeline you were given for the evaluation to be complete draws to a close.

What can parents with special needs children or children with learning disabilities expect when it comes to academics and grades?

If your child is receiving the accommodations and modifications, according to their IEP, and the child is working hard at home and school, then your child should be able to maintain passing grades in those areas.

It is very important as a parent to stay on top of grades and check in to make sure your child is receiving the accommodations and modifications they are suppose to get.....in regular education and special education classes. Unless noted in the IEP, the child will be  graded on the same grading scale as others.

What about the social scene? Any tips for getting the child involved, making friends, dealing with bullies/teasing?

Depending on the severity of the exceptionality, there are different ways to help your child make friends. Many park systems are starting inclusive sports programs that are great for children with and without special needs. Building on pre-established friendships from church, summer camp, last school year, etc. can help connect children to other children also. 

If a child is having severe social issues, this can be addressed through the IEP with goals and objectives. The school counselor is also a great resource for helping students with social issues. Unfortunately, bullies will always be around and can make school miserable for students.

Our school counselor suggested this strategy for teasing: If someone says, for example, "your hair is so ugly," encourage your child to say something like "I know. I so need to get it cut." Responding this way to verbal teasing takes the "fun and power" away from the teaser because the child did not respond in a way that showed "weakness" to the teaser. The school social worker is a great resource for one-on-one, small group, and whole class interventions.

Most importantly, the child needs to tell an adult. The majority of the time, the bullying and teasing take place at recess, in the bathroom, or on the bus.

What are the most common behavioral issues you deal with? What should parents expect?

General acting out in class due to academic frustration. If a child cannot do the work being asked, they sometimes prefer to be the "bad" kid in class instead of chancing the embarrassment of not knowing and allowing their classmates to see their "weakness" in academics. This is a normal way they cope but is not a positive way to cope. 

If a child is receiving the accommodations and modifications outlined in their IEP, then behavior like this should not be an issue. If it is becoming a consistent problem, I would have a conference with the teacher and make sure all services and accommodations are being provided. As a parent, you should set high expectations for behavior at school and don't automatically side with your child. Get the whole story before you side with your child.

A very important thing — and many parents are guilty of this — is to remember to NEVER speak negatively about your child's teacher in front of them. If you do not demonstrate respect for them, how can you expect your child to do so?

If behavior becomes a major concern, the IEP team needs to meet to get the child a behavior plan and work with a behavior consultant/interventionist/strategist.

How are children disciplined - warnings, principal's office, suspensions, etc.?

This varies by districts, schools, and individual classrooms. I would check your district's, school's, and individual teacher's policies on discipline. In general, a special needs child cannot be suspended out of school for more than ten days and cannot be suspended if the behavior is directly related to the child's exceptionality.

What is the bus culture like? Any issues/benefits you see?

Children will ride the regular school buses if they are able. Most districts have mini buses that are equipped for wheelchairs and usually have a driver and an attendant to help with the children. Not all regular buses have an attendant and bullying, fighting, teasing, etc. can take place. If this is the case, speak with the school about having your child placed on the mini bus for safety.

What's the biggest concern you hear from parents of special needs children in public school?

The biggest concern most of my parents have is about their child's future academically.  Most are concerned about their child's performance on high stakes testing, passing/failing grades, and whether or not their child will graduate high school, etc.

What's one thing every parent with a special needs or learning disabled child in public school needs to know?

You need to be an advocate for your child and teach them to be an advocate for themselves to ensure they receive all services, accommodations, etc. that they legally have a right to. A parent should never expect less from their child just because of an exceptionality. Don't let the exceptionality be an excuse for your child.

Where can parents of school-age special needs children get more information?

About.com has great information you might check out. A lot of what we talked about here varies considerably depending on state, district, exceptionality, and needs of the child.


Stay tuned for lots more "What to Expect" features in the Daily Buzz. Over the next several weeks, we'll be covering pre-K through the first year of college.

Thanks so much to 2mommies4g who helped us present this valuable Back to School information for exceptional kids. Schools and activities vary depending on the district and where you live, of course.

What has the special needs education experience been like for you and your child?

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