With the school starting a whole new year, many parents have or will face the dreaded notes home which begin, “Your child was tested today and found…”. The path to discovery of your child’s learning disability or special need can be confusing, frustrating, and often cause a parent to feel helpless.
When you receive a notice about the need to meet with teachers and/or other child development specialists, what are some things you can do so your child receives all he or she is entitled?
#1: Be Your Child’s Voice
Your child may be too young to ask for what he/she needs. Perhaps he or she isn’t verbal at all. Regardless the ‘why’, *you* have to be the voice for your child. Say what you and your child want from the center and/or school. State exactly what you have to know and expect from the meeting right at the beginning. Professionals are there to help your child, not be a name with a bunch of letters at the end. But they can only help if you tell them what you require.
At a recent meeting to discuss whether or not a four year old child needed further evaluation, I could tell a mother didn’t understand the ‘big’ terms being used. While I went to school and graduated hearing ‘cognitive manipulation’ all the time, it’s not a term tossed around in the local grocery store. I halted the speaker and said, “Could you please explain what that is?” The mother’s look of relief and gratitude was priceless. Professionals are human, too. They can’t explain what they don’t know you don’t understand.
#2: You are the Expert
Parents are their child’s first, best, and foremost teacher. No matter how recommended or education a doctor or specialist is, they are no your child’s parent. You are the expert in your own child. You know him/her like the back of your hand. No one will ever be smarter than you in that one vital matter.
Plan to work with the doctors and specialists to help develop a plan for your child. Give your observations and what you know about life with your child from his/her habits, likes and dislikes, favorite toys, speech, etc. Your input is very important to the goals and treatments your child receives.
#3: Your Child Has Rights
And so do you. The constitution and numerous Americans with Disabilities laws give your child the right to the highest quality of education and services he or she needs. This can include speech and/or occupational therapy, evaluations, and most importantly, your consent and agreement before anything is done to or with your child.
In advance of any planned meeting, read up on the services available in your area. Large cities may have dozens of specialists while smaller towns only have a few. Education yourself on what a speech or occupational or physical therapist does. What is the law concerning children with special needs in your local school system (as a note, all children over the age of thirty-six months must, by law, receive services from the local school system, so these services are free to parents and guardians). Stand up for your child’s rights.
Never underestimate yourself as a parent. Your child deserves the best in all ways. Becoming his or her advocate is only one way you show your devotion. You are a strong voice!