A new school year is always an exciting time. It means new beginnings, new opportunities. At the same time, it also means a lot of preparations. Especially when you have special needs kids.
Today, I will talk about my experience here in Colorado, USA.
Special Needs Kids and School Accommodations
Having children with special needs can be challenging. In my experience, every person is unique and has their own special needs. However, some of us need more specific accommodations, while others are perfectly fine in a regular school setting. We look at each individual child on a case by case basis and do our best to make their school experience work for them.
All of my four boys have special needs. Some of my kids are twice-exceptional as well. That means they are gifted and have a learning disability at the same time. For now, we tailor the education to each of their specific needs. Therefore, some of our kids go to school, some of them are homeschooled, and some of them are in special education. Here’s how it’s working out for us.
The School Nurse
Before the school year starts, I first have a meeting with the school nurse. I make it a priority to provide clear information and educate her about the conditions and the daily difficulties my children face. The nurses do like to know what they can expect, what health accommodations are needed and how they can make school life easier for my child. Together we start working on an Individual Health Plan (IHP).
IEP’s and 504’s, Wait, What?
When you have special needs kids in the USA, you have probably heard of:
- IEP’s (Individual Education Plans for kids with learning disabilities);
- 504 plans (accommodation plans for kids with disabilities).
When I moved here and first got introduced to the public school system, I had NO idea what everyone was talking about. When asked if my child had an IEP, I answered no. He didn’t have one, because I didn’t know what it was. How could I know? I will not go into the whole IEP/504 process, however, I did want to get the terminology out there because I found it important to realize what was going on.
Did you know: IDEA is an acronym that stands for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It is an American law that makes free appropriate public education available to eligible children with a disability. Look for similar laws in the country where you live.
What is an IEP?
An IEP, Individual Education Plan, is a written statement of the educational program designed by the school district to meet a child’s individual needs.
If your child is found eligible for an IEP, they will qualify for a free appropriate public education in a public school or a charter school. If you are homeschooling, you might be able to request additional services. It depends on your state and school district. Most likely, it will not be called an IEP but an ISP, an Individual Services Plan. That is what it is called in our school district. The same applies to private schools. For more information, contact your school district.
Did you know: You can request an IEP evaluation directly by contacting your school district.
What is a 504 Plan?
When your child has a disability and is not eligible for special education, but can still benefit from some accommodations in school, we’re talking about a 504 plan. It is part of a civil rights law and refers to section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Did you know: A 504 plan is a written statement designed by the school to customize a child’s learning environment to meet a child’s specific needs.
I have two children on an IEP and two children on a 504. However, one of my 504 children is currently being evaluated for an IEP, which I requested during Summer break. We had been waiting for months to get him evaluated and we were done waiting. Summer break, in my opinion, the best time to request it. Why? Because everyone is still in the office, but people are not as busy.
Did you know: you can bring an Education Advocate to your IEP / 504 meeting. Meetings can be intense and it is nice to have someone there who has experience with them.
Keeping Records and Organizing
I have a binder for each child that I take to meetings. The best suggestion I got was to keep everything organized following the wrightslaw method. The book is very user-friendly. Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy: The Special Education Survival Guide
The organizing method explained:
- Make a list of all your child’s providers;
- Request all the documents;
- Don’t read the documents!
- Date everything with a 2hb pencil in the lower right corner. I initial it as well because I have multiple children;
- Highlight important facts with a yellow highlighter;
- On a separate piece of paper, create an index with the date of the document, the sender, the importance or specific fact of that document, category. Limit your categories to a maximum of 5;
- Organize everything chronologically, from old to new;
- Keep original documents in the binder, if someone wants to make a copy, don’t forget to put it back.
Just in case you do end up in the USA with a special needs child, it is nice to know what you need to look for. Feel free to contact me for more information.
Tell us what it looks like in your country in the comments below.