If your child has special needs or a disability, special education may help your child succeed in school and in life. However, many parents fear that their child will be singled out for special education classes in a room separate from their classmates, so they avoid seeking out special education arrangements.
While this was the case at one time, current special education laws require schools to provide an educational environment that is as unrestrictive and equal for all children as possible.
Are you unsure whether your child qualifies for special education? Do you wonder if special education services would help your child succeed in school? The definitions of eligible disabilities have been greatly expanded to include learning disabilities and emotional challenges as well as physical disabilities.
Some of these definitions are set by the states, and the federal government decides some. Regardless of what type of disability your child has, special education is the best way to ensure that your child is getting the education that your child deserves.
Without special education services, your child may be at a disadvantage. Even with a caring and patient teacher, many children find themselves unable to keep up with their peers in the classroom.
Setting out a clear and fair special education plan will give you, your child and the school the assurance that appropriate measures are being taken on your child’s behalf in the classroom. These may include additional time with a teacher or special education facilitator, physical accommodations, or any other reasonable accommodation that the school is able to offer.
When seeking special education arrangements for your child, your first step will be to obtain an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for him. An IEP should be developed for each child with any disability and is the single most important piece of documentation in your quest for equal education for your child. It outlines goals and objectives for the student, along with a description of which accommodations will be necessary to facilitate those objectives.
The IEP process begins when you or your child’s teacher notice that the child is struggling in school. The concerned party will request a referral for special education services, which typically will result in an evaluation by a committee comprised of school faculty and you. The evaluation will determine whether your child’s disabilities interfere with his educational experience. If so, an IEP will be developed.
When the IEP is in place, your child will have access to the special education services covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under IDEA, your child is entitled to an education equivalent to that of a child without disabilities in the least restrictive environment possible.
The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) mandate is the result of many years of studies. The conclusion of these studies was that special needs children are better served in the classroom with their peers than in a segregated classroom environment. The practices of pull-out programs, separate “special-ed” rooms, and the stigma of being a “special-ed kid” has changed radically in the past decade.
Children are now encouraged to flourish first in the regular classroom, with accommodations and modifications if necessary. If it becomes clear that this setup is not in the best interest of the child, the school or the parent may request a re-evaluation of the situation.
Recent studies have proven beyond a doubt that children with disabilities have more opportunities to thrive when they are educated in the same environment as non-disabled children. Observing and interacting with other children helps students with disabilities to maintain a sense of normalcy and develop their social skills. An inclusive classroom, one that includes special needs and non-special needs students, can also help the non-special needs students develop valuable social skills.
By taking down the barriers between disabled students and non-disabled students, IDEA has made the special education environment a more nurturing and beneficial place for your child to receive the education your child is entitled to. There is no longer any need to be nervous about the negative impact that special education will have on your child because the process has been refined to be as positive as possible.
The special education environment found in schools today is one that provides an improved learning experience for your child. With the help of supplemental support staff and special training for classroom teachers, your child’s school can provide the type of environment that makes it possible for him to thrive and to achieve all that your child is capable of achieving.
Scott Wasserman is a graduate of Harvard Law School with more than 22 years of legal experience. His law