Children with special needs can face many issues in getting a free and appropriate education. Some may need special education service, while others may need modification to make school accessible or medical assistance to make it safe. For some students, struggles with learning or behavior require special management to avid school disruption. Parents have lots of questions about what their children will need and how to get it. Find your answers here.


Is my child ready to start Special Education?

Ready to move on to the next grade? Millions of parents agonize over these decisions each year. One of the first concerns of parents whose children are born in August through October is "should I let him start kindergarten early or wait a year?"
Normal development in the early elementary years varies widely. Many parents also face the question of whether a child on the immature end of the developmental curve, educationally, physically, socially, or emotionally, should move on or repeat an early grade. Retention is a tough issue for me, but my gut instinct is to be against it in most cases. A better strategy is to delay the start of kindergarten.
A young five who is disruptive in a group, who can't tie his shoes, or exhibits separation anxiety might benefit from waiting to start kindergarten. These individual skills are part of kindergarten readiness assessments. Immature behaviors signal parents to look deeper into the issue.
Many preschools and kindergartens will help you assess your child's school readiness, and you should ask for a formal assessment. Some children adjust better when they wait until age six to start school. If you do make the decision to wait a year, you should definitely enroll him in an educational pre-K program to build his skills during this important learning year.

Preparing the School for Your Child with a Food Allergy

Teachers can be great allies in keeping your child with a food allergy safe and successful, but you'll need to make sure they have the knowledge they need to help. Use these suggestions to create a information packet to bring educators up to speed.
Five Things Teachers Need to Know:
  1. My child's food allergy is not a matter of personal preference or minor discomfort. This is a medical condition diagnosed by a doctor, and exposure to even small amounts of the foods to which he is allergic can cause a dangerous reaction for my child. Please take it seriously, and please contact me if you have questions or concerns.
  2. If there is going to be a birthday party or other snack time in the classroom, please let me know in advance so that I can be sure to send in something that my child can eat.
  3. It's okay to let my child's classmates know about her condition as long as it is done in a positive and respectful way; I'd be happy to help prepare a program.
  4. My child has a significant health condition, but he is still a child with ordinary interests and hopes and dreams. Please help us keep his life as normal as possible.
  5. Please join me in keeping the lines of communication open between our home and the school. It is important to my child's health and safety to have all of the adults in her life working together.

How much information shoul I give my child's teacher?

Assemble a Teacher Information Packet
Here's how to put it all together into a packet that will help your child's teacher help your child.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: As much as you want to put into it
Here's How:
Find your child's disability. Go to the index of school information and click on the link for your child's particular diagnosis. If you don't see it on the list, see if you can find something similar and adapt it to your needs.
Read over the "Five Things Teachers Need to Know." Some may be more appropriate for your child than others. Some might need additional information specific to your child. Some will need to have the "he" or "she" switched to your child's gender. Personalize these suggestions for your own child's strengths and needs, and write them in a note to the teacher.
Add any additional information. Some pages include sections titled "Teacher Tips" or "Educational Implications." Review these, take what seems appropriate to your child, and include it in your correspondence to the teacher. You'll also want to add any of your personal observations, and techniques that have worked well in the past.
Click on each of the "Printouts to Share with Teachers" and read them through. Some are short, while others are quite lengthy. Pick the ones that you think are most appropriate to your child and of most interest to the school. Sending in too much information all at once may make it seem like too overwhelming a chore for your child's teacher. You can always offer to send in additional resources later.
Print out the printouts you've chosen. Print them on good white printer paper so they're easy to handle and read. If you like most of a resource but there is a section you disagree with, cut that section out and make a photocopy of that page to include. If it's a sentence you disagree with, use white-out to eliminate or change it and then photocopy that page.
Make a final draft of your note to the teacher. It should be no more than a page long, whether handwritten or typed. Start with a positive sentence about how much you're looking forward to working with the teacher this year; mention the specific things the teacher needs to know as adapted from our lists; mention that you will be attaching more information; and end by giving your phone number and e-mail address and indicating your eagerness to discuss the material.
Put together a nice package. If the printouts are not very thick, you can staple them to the note or put the note and pages in a plain letter-sized envelope. If the printouts are bulkier, try putting the note and printouts in a large manilla envelope, inter-office envelope or clear plastic portfolio. The more seriously you take this material and your presentation of it, the more seriously the teacher will take it.

What is Early Intervention?

The term Early Intervention refers to services given to very young children with special needs, generally from birth until the child turns three. For this reason, these programs are sometimes called "Birth to 3" or "Zero to 3." Services included speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy, provided either in an office or in the child's home. The hope is that these services, provided early, will address any delays in development so that the child will not need services later on. At age 3, if a child still needs help, he or she might be referred to the school district for special-education preschool. Your pediatrician should be able to refer you to early intervention providers in your area, or find your state's office in charge of early intervention and make the contact directly.

What is Special Education?

"Special Education" refers to services given to students with disabilities through the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, better known as IDEA. Students in special education require significant modifications in their educational programs; they may need extensive remediation, smaller-group settings, adaptations to their workload, a slower-paced curriculum, or other adjustments to suit their abilities and limitations as determined by a team of educators and parents working together. The team develops an IEP, or Individualized Education Program (or Plan), a legal document that spells out exactly what the school will do and what goals have been set for the student. Students in special education may be taught in a regular classroom with supports, a self-contained classroom, or a special school for students with similar disabilities.