This article about special needs education is meant for parents of very young children who are just starting in the public school system. Most school districts have programs for special needs children as young as 3 years old. For some special needs, like blindness, the programs begin even earlier. As soon as you suspect you have a significant issue with your child’s development, you can contact your school district to see what programs they offer. Generally speaking, the sooner you get them help, the better the results will be.
Once you find out that your school district has programs that might help your child, you need to ask for a full and complete evaluation from them. This evaluation will determine whether your child has a need that qualifies them for a special education program. Once you formally and in writing ask for an evaluation, the school district must conduct that evaluation within 60 days. They probably won’t give you a hard time about it, but if they do, you may need to bring the matter up with your state board of education. They simply cannot refuse to do an evaluation.
Most of the time, part of the full and complete evaluation includes a questionnaire for you to fill out about your child’s development and abilities. This is not the time to paint an optimistic and rosy picture of your child. You need to be brutally honest here and point out all the areas your child struggles with. For example, when they asked when Deborah first began to speak, this was the real situation: one time when she was 2 she said a single word, and then never said it again. If I had answered that question as “she began to speak at 2 years old”, they would have gotten a very false impression of her ability. It would have sounded as if she had been speaking normally since she was two, which isn’t necessarily that bad. The reality was that she really had never learned to speak at all–and therefore definitely qualified for their early intervention program for 3-5 year olds. Never lie on a questionnaire, but do answer the questions in such a way that a clear picture of the situation comes through. Don’t sugar-coat anything. Unless your child truly has a skill just like a normally developing child, don’t say that they do or they may miss out on needed therapies.
When it comes time for the evaluation at school, ask if you can be present in the room or watch from a window. I found it very informative to see how they tested Deborah. Her testing was very good and they didn’t go easy on her or make exceptions. She clearly needed help and they were willing to admit her into the program. If your child has a less serious case, you may need to be sure that the testing is done correctly or your child may be denied admission. If their test results do not show a need for special education services, you have the option to request an outside evaluation, probably from a psychologist in private practice. In many cases, the school district can be required to pay for that evaluation, but I would recommend paying for it yourself. It is better to be in control of the situation as much as possible. I hope this helps.
Here is a link to a webinar with more information: http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?llr=8ozzr7cab&v=0014Ey5FNw0bDJX6c77qCFjPqylxeCbnCAlKUK_TPLuVZ3QKBl5zHPpSA6YhzdlRqCApL6ujJa6eGzdknquWQfMqB-qLOLmsRllKxACMHDV8ZM%3D .
© 2013, Margaret. All rights reserved.