Parent Participation: How To Improve Your Child's Special Education In School

I recently expressed my frustration with the special education programs. As a mom of a special needs child, I am pretty taken back by our experience.

Our experience wasn’t the best, from I.E.P.’s not being followed, lack of transparency on issues, broken communication, too little resources, children being handled roughly on the bus, the bus leaving my 4-year-old at the wrong school, and an alleged assault in the classroom.

It is easy to say I am disheartened with the system. The sad fact is, we live in a pretty good school district. When schools have to right resources and staff special education can be an amazing intervention.

Laws in the United States require that public schools accommodate students with special needs. However, it isn’t as clean cut as that.

It takes persistence, attentiveness, and patience to get the appropriate resources for your child.

But the process can be so exhausting and disheartening that many frustrated parents throw in the towel and peruse other sources for education.

How To Deal With Schools

But what if you can’t throw in the towel, what if other sources of education aren’t the best for your child and your family. What do you do?

As we are starting a new school year, with such a terrible experience, I want to share what could have made a difference for us and what actions you and I can take as parents of a special needs child, ways to improve our experience with special education.

Know Your Child

Know your child’s condition and behavior. Know how it impacts them at school and on an academic level.

My child is a different child at home versus when he is at school. The extra kids, the demands, the fluorescent lights, can hinder his educational learning and goals.

Sometimes these extra fruitions can cause him to act out, have a meltdown, and not appear to be interested in the environment or learning.

Work with your child’s teacher on ways to improve this environment so your child can succeed. Create a plan and be able to explain behaviors to your child’s teacher so they know the best way to work with your child and help your child be successful.

Establish Clear Communication

man holding and talking into a can with string coming out of it

Establish clear communication right away. This shows that you are a concerned parent and that you plan to be involved in your child’s education.

Establish what is the best way of communication for you and your child’s teacher. Setting these guidelines early help establish the foundation of your communication and relationship with your child’s teacher.

Do you want to be updated daily, weekly, only when a concern arises?

How do you want to be updated? A note home, a quick email, a phone call, meetings?

Having difficulty getting communication followed through? Call an I.E.P. meeting and have communication added to your child’s I.E.P. There is no limit on the number of I.E.P. meetings a parent can ask for.

If you must add communication to your child’s I.E.P., be sure to add the frequency and means you are comfortable with.

There are many things that can be added to a child’s I.E.P. that parents may not know about. Does your child not have an I.E.P. and communication is an issue? Address it with the principal as next.

Not effective there? Contact the central office and express your concerns.

I personally prefer email communication, unless it is an emergency. Email communication provides me with clear words and prevents any he said or she said misunderstandings. I also print out these emails for and place them in my I.E.P. Binder to reference during I.E.P. meetings.

Get Involved

Find out your school’s policy regarding visitors. Is there an open-door policy?

Start making frequent, unpredictable visits. You may be able to get a picture of what is going on in the classroom.

Change up your routine. Does your child ride the bus to school? Drive your child to school occasionally. See if it opens up a change in conversation or behavior for your child.

Better yet, get involved.

man and woman with blue shirts that say "volunteer" puts their hands together in the middle

Volunteer at your child’s school. Whether it be in the office or in your child’s classroom. Put a name to your face.

What better way to say, “Here I am, I’m not just complaining, I’m trying to make a difference too.”

Is your teacher lacking resources? Not enough help in the classroom? Could they use someone to help copy papers, sharpen pencils, set up activities? Be that person that steps in to help.

Maybe you do get more bees with honey as they say. Perhaps having a better relationship with teachers and staff can improve your child’s experience. Click To Tweet

Can’t make it during the day due to work constraints? Join the PTA, parents on the PTA, work together to make decisions that affect their local school. Meet other parent volunteers, hear and understand their issues and goals for the school. Are they similar? Is there a common issue?

Events held by the PTA may not have special needs parents on board, could your perspective as a special need parent help with needed accommodations for events?

Does there need to be a consideration for special needs children at events, book fairs, and dancing? You could help implement that.

Establishing these positive relationships early on allows respectful conversations later. Even if they are difficult conversations.

Make Suggestions

chalkboard with light bulb and circles and dashes written in chalk

Sometimes as an outsider viewing you, you may have a different perspective or viewpoint of a situation.

Maybe you see a better way to implement the car drop-off line, maybe you see a better way to organize the back to school night.

Perhaps in this conversation, you can learn about what is lacking at your child’s school and form a dialogue and use this dialogue as a learning opportunity.

Know Your Chain Of Command And Don’t Be Afraid To Ignore It

Yes, I said ignore it.

There is always a basic chain of command when dealing with issues. Following the chain of command may seem proper and well intimidating. Perhaps you don’t know who is the next in the chain, perhaps you feel that things automatically get referred up the chain of command.

Unfortunately, in our experience, it does not.

My dad always taught me that everyone has a boss, and everyone has accountability. Everyone.

Look at your local child’s school’s website. Information for the Principal, Special Education Director, to The Board of Education information should be listed. If you must, get these people involved, don’t feel intimidated.

No one’s professional title is more important than you advocating for your child. Click To Tweet

Don’t let a person’s title make you feel that you cannot reach out to help your child. A superintendent wakes up every day just like you, and he or she has a job to do.

Decisions are made about funding and resources on this level. Issues about lack of resources and inadequate staffing are not bad places to start.

Go beyond and reach out to the central office if you need help getting your issues resolved.

Beyond The School

Some schools have special education liaison and if not special education directors, these people help parents navigate the special education program. This is another place that you can reach out to.

Do not feel that you are limited to your child’s school only, there are other options and resources for help.

If your school does not have this resource, you can reach out to a special needs advocate or lawyer.  These individuals specialize in special education resources, laws, and know the ways to implement them.

They can work with you and your concerns while protecting your child’s rights.

Board Of Education

Look up and attend your local Board of Education Meetings or school board meetings. These meetings are generally open to the public. They will provide you first hand with information regarding what is going on in your child’s district, not just the local school.

The Board of Education is supposed to work to improve student achievements, establish policies, and regulations for their local school.

Listen to what is being voted on. What is being implemented? Budgets are often discussed, as a parent of a special needs child you could share first-hand experiences of how budget changes or cuts would affect your child and their needs.

Board of Education seems intimidating right? Nope, they are elected individuals, meaning they work for the voters.

Voters, meaning you right?

Some Board of Education meetings have open forums or comment sections toward the end of their meetings where parents, students, or citizens, can publicly express their concerns and frustrations. Don’t’ be afraid to speak here as well.

Vote

Vote, Vote, Vote.

I am ashamed that I voted for whoever when it came to the school board.

I didn’t have children in the school system, I didn’t pay attention to the school system, and I surely didn’t look at the candidates running.

I can remember doing a quick google of who the teachers supported and voting off that. I mean teachers know, right?

I was ignorant to the fact that as a citizen it was my responsibility to look after children that don’t have a voice, to make sure that children in the school system were taken care of, their needs met, and that they had an appropriate education.

It’s known but often not the first thought that these kids grew up and will be making important decisions later in life, we at least should ensure they have someone looking out for them.

Schools Need Parents To Participate

art and crafts paint brush scissors colored pencils construction paper

Taking the step to get involved and being an active parent can improve communication and the relationship that you have with your child’s school.

While your child may still have some difficulties in school as a child with a special need, established communication and relationship can promote a positive experience.

The parent and teacher can work together to improve and create a positive learning experience for your special needs child without the additional stress, frustration, and heartache.

Read more about special education:

Back to School: Why I’m Hesitant To Send My Son Back To Special Education Preschool

Read more about autism:

Autism Spectrum Disorder: What I Didn’t Understand About It

9 Early Signs of Autism in Toddlers and Babies: Signs I Missed as a Mother

The Autism Diagnosis: Why I Took So Long To Accept My Son’s

Thanks for reading! I hope this post provided you with some ways you can improve your relationship with your child’s school. Leave a comment below and share some ways you interact with your child’s school.