9 tips to help military families navigate the system

By Amanda Morin

If you’re a military family and you have a child with learning and thinking differences, what are your options? The military has its own way of serving you and your child. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Sign up for the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP).

It’s required if your child needs services. EFMP is there to help you and your family find the services and support you need from military and non-military agencies.

2. Do some homework.

Try to get familiar with special education rights and responsibilities for military families. Many kids attend public schools while their parents are in the military. But some attend schools run by the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA). There are similarities and differences between special education services in DoDEA schools and public schools.

3. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

If you’re having trouble navigating the system, put in a request for a DoDEA case manager. DoDEA special education services aren’t the same as in public schools. Working with someone who knows the system can be very helpful.

4. Keep track of your child’s records.

Military families are likely to switch schools more frequently than other families. It’s important to keep your child’s information and records organized and up-to-date. The military has a system called the Special Care Organizational Records that may be helpful.

5. Develop a relationship with your child’s teachers.

Stay in touch with your child’s teachers. Together you can document efforts to help your child. For example, using a communication notebook (a notebook that goes back and forth between the teacher and you) can help both of you keep track of strategies that are working well (or not so well) at home and at school. This can be especially helpful to reference if your child is transferred to a new school.

6. Understand your child’s learning and thinking differences.

The more you know about your child’s specific issues and needs, the better you can advocate for him. For example, if your child has writing issues and needs to help him write, it’s important to know that. You can help make sure all his information and needs are recorded as part of your child’s (IEP). That IEP will transfer to a new school if you are relocated.

7. Be involved in your child’s IEP meetings.

Service in the military may mean that you’re not always on base. But try to attend meetings as often as your schedule allows. The military encourages family involvement. So getting time off might be easier than you think. You can ask your DoDEA case manager to come with you if you’re concerned about a smooth transfer of service to another school. If you’re deployed, make sure your child’s guardian attends the meeting and fills you in.

8. Encourage your child to speak up.

Make sure your child is aware of his services. This way he can keep you informed about what’s going on in the classroom. As he gets older, it’s important that he learn to self-advocate, or speak up for what he needs.

9. Subscribe to The Exceptional Advocate.

This is an electronic newsletter for military families in the EFMP. It gives families the latest news on the military and special needs.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Kylah Torre is an instructor in the department of special education at Hunter College.