Special education can be a wonderful tool in helping children with learning disabilities, and their parents, cope with the extra challenges these issues bring to a child’s education. When these disabilities are discovered at an early age, the appropriate steps can be taken to give children the necessary coping skills and the confidence to work through their issues. However, parents should never blindly accept the school’s recommendations.
When my son was first evaluated by the school system, he was at preschool age. Because he had been slow to walk and talk he was in private speech therapy, and I had been told the school system might agree to pay for it. The school wanted to put him in an extensive program. He would attend school about a half a day; it would be a preschool developed to help prepare children with disabilities for future school experiences. As a stay-at-home mom, I believed a few more years of less structured childhood might be better. I was also uncomfortable with the school’s speech therapist insisting he needed physical therapy because our private speech therapist had said she was unqualified to comment on any of my son’s issues outside of speech. I also asked for a more detailed explanation of their findings then they were willing to give me; they insisted that they just knew and I didn’t understand. I think I’m bright enough to get most things and was not sure what to make of their unwillingness to explain things to me.
I told them we would continue to keep him private therapy; even when they agreed to reduce his program to only speech therapy because once we signed the paperwork to do this they could re-evaluate him and put him in the program they had first proposed. I had learned this by reading the paperwork they automatically give parents when their children are evaluated. It explained we had the right to be informed about our child’s services and the steps both parents and the school system could take in case of a disagreement. It also stated once my son was in special education he would remain in this system until he was a high school graduate or was 19 years of age. I knew we didn’t agree on the program best for him as this time and refused to put him their program. They were very upset and said they could force our hand based on the Federal Disabilities Act. I said go ahead; luckily it was a bluff. A few years later, when my son entered the school system, he was in special education.
My son was in an IEP (Individual Education Program). Special education personnel and my husband and I met regularly to discuss his progress and how to continue to help him. I questioned everything that was not clear to me until I understood, and objected to everything I thought wasn’t in my son’s best interest. I would strongly encourage every parent in this situation to never back down when special education doesn’t agree with you and to always make sure every fight is about your child and not how difficult special education personnel can be.
It was a mixed experience. On the plus side, it was discovered he is academically gifted. The school was first to recognize this and often arranged his out-of-the classroom services to help him stay in the gifted program. For instance, writing and reading comprehension were more difficult for him than math, so his services were scheduled during math, but never during the reading or writing periods of his school day. Today, his is a senior in high school with great grades and a bright future. But the above described showdown was not the only argument I had with the special education department.