With the start of a new year, I wanted to impart some information that can be helpful to all parents. Let me just say that I have been involved in school districts as a school psychologist and in private practice as a clinical psychologist. For many years I have advocated for children in all aspects of education from pre-schoolers to college students. Over the years, I have tried to impress upon all parents that they have to be partners in their children's education. It is important for parents to be aware of the demands their children face in school and to be involved in their homework and long term projects. Those parents who are lucky enough to have children with average or above average intelligence, internal motivation, and no learning problems will probably have an easier path. Parents of children who have specific learning problems, emotional or behavioral problems, or who are even intellectually advanced, will have to be more diligent. For these parents, it is even more important to understand what the school systems can offer and how to advocate for their children.
Many parents have come to me unsure about how to help their child who has been doing poorly in school or who has been identified as a behavior problem. They have been intimidated by the teachers or the administrators, who were seen as being smarter than the parents, or who were viewed as being all knowing. I can understand parents being unsure of themselves with professional educators. I believe that most teachers and school personnel do not want to be seen as unavailable or difficult. I believe they are well meaning and motivated to help, but they may not have all of the answers. When a child is having a chronic problem in school, some changes have to be made to accommodate that child's needs. The changes range from easy fixes, to curriculum modifications, to elaborate programming changes. Sometimes alternative educational environments are needed.
There are rules and laws that govern what can and cannot be done for children with special needs. These regulations are a subset of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Many times, I have had parents who were afraid of identifying their children as having a problem. They were afraid of labeling their child for life. It has been my experience that the label has not hurt any children. In fact, I have worked with children whose parents did not get the school district help and their children were failing miserably and did not go on in school. Over the years, I have advocated for many other children who did receive special educational services and who have gone on to college, and even earn graduate degrees.
As a parent, if your child is having long-term academic problems, make an appointment with his/her teachers and brainstorm ideas to help your child learn more efficiently. Have contact with the teachers on a regular basis. If that does not help, meet with guidance personnel and even the school principal. If you see signs of siginficant learning problems or your child's needs are not being met by the regular educational programming, write a letter to the individual who is in charge of the District's Committee on Special Education(CSE) asking for an evaluation of your child. The CSE is not forced to formally evaluate your child, but they will have to investigate what is happening with your child.
Remember, parents have all of the power in regard to what happens to their children. School districts cannot institute changes in your child's educational programming without your consent. If you have questions about special educational services, you can obtain information and support from district parent groups, national support groups, state and federal regulatory agencies, and professional advocates.