Customizing Your Child’s Education

For many parents of ‘typical’ children, choosing the educational path of their child is a fairly simple task. We might move to neighborhoods with quality schools, attend teacher conferences, and do our best to keep up with the new strategies used to teach math or writing.

Families with children receiving special education services know there is a lot more to it than that, and the more we know about the options available to us, the better schooling our children receive.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act makes it clear that all children are entitled to the best education available. More specifically, the concept of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is in place to ensure that all students, to “the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities…are educated with children who are not disabled…” (Sec. 612 (a)[5]).

The available settings for your child’s education are numerous, from being integrated with students in a general education classroom all day, to highly segregated, in which schooling takes place in a special care facility specific to the needs of your child.

With so many options, it can be overwhelming, especially when the needs of your child may constantly be changing.

Cindy Miller, a parent of a child with special needs, teaches special education in the Arlington School District, and believes the Least Restrictive Environment is critical to ensure the correct placement for your child. “As a parent, I have always wanted what would best meet my child’s needs emotionally, physically, and intellectually in just about that order. I looked at LRE as a way to protect my son from environments that I felt were too overwhelming or too stimulating for him. In those instances, my request was that he receive adaptive PE and music therapy which would be more beneficial and better able to address his goals and objectives.”

As an educator, however, Ms. Miller is careful when determining the Least Restrictive Environment for a student. She talks with parents to determine what their goals are for their child, both currently, and for their future.

“I need to make sure the data that is collected is extensive.” She warns parents that students who are engaged in special education courses may not end up with the same credits as their non disabled peers, therefore resulting in a different diploma. “If the student is college bound this can cause issues with admission or disqualify them for admission to a college at all.”

Ms. Miller also reminds parents that although it is tempting to have an aid spend the day with our students with special needs, it isn’t always in the child’s best interest. The hope is that our students with special needs gain more independence, and if an aid is constantly with them, this may not necessarily happen.

As students grow older, their needs may change, and with this, the Least Restrictive Environment will change as well. While parents can view this as disruptive, Dr. Salend reminds teachers and parents that this is a good thing. To move from a highly segregated environment to one that more resembles those of their nondisabled peers means the student is evolving in one or more area. At the same time, some students that may not be having success in a mainstream classroom might do better in a more restrictive setting.

So what should you as a parent do for your child’s education? Ask questions. Research. There are no easy answers in education even in a general setting, but if your child is receiving or may need to receive special education services, decisions should not be taken lightly. As Ms. Miller stated and Mrs. Hughes learned, the long term outcome of decisions made, even in elementary school, will have life lasting effects.

Ms. Miller sums it up this way: “You, as the parent are the consumer, even of an educational career for your child. Your job as a parent is to get involved, find out what supports are in place for your child and investigate what the Least Restrictive Environment looks like for your child. Ask questions and follow the progress of your child’s IEP. If no progress is being made, find out why. If there doesn’t seem to be challenges, find out why. Is your child in the right program? What else is available? You don’t get any do-overs for your child and their school career. Make this one count by being the most informed about your child’s Least Restrictive Environment.”

To see the entire article, visit http://www.dfwthrivemagazine.com/showarticle.asp?artid=169. It explains the many options school offer for students with special needs, as well as questions parents should ask themselves when determining their child’s placement. For more information, email me at julia@juliagarstecki.com

Thrive magazine is a Dallas based publication that focuses on children with special needs. It is available on the web at www.dfwthrivemagazine.com