By Amanda Morin
If special education is something you’re exploring for your child, you may hear all kinds of things that give you pause. It can be hard to know what’s true and what’s not. Here’s the reality behind 10 common rumors.
Most kids who get special education services are in the same classroom as kids who don’t. That’s not just the school’s choice, it’s the way the law says it should be. The concept is set forth in IDEA, and it’s known as “least restrictive environment,” or LRE. Research shows that two-thirds of kids with learning disabilities spend 80 percent of their day in the general education classroom with all the other kids.
Most kids in special education do not have severe disabilities. The majority of students fit into the category of “specific learning disability.” That means kids who have reading issues like dyslexia, or math issues like dyscalculia.
You’ve probably heard stories of parents who had to “fight” to get services for their kids. But nearly 6 million kids in the U.S. receive special education services, so there are plenty of stories about it going well, too—though you may not hear them as often. Knowing your child’s rights can make a huge difference in making the process go smoothly.
Connect with parents in our community to hear about their experiences with getting services.
It’s natural to worry about the stigma of a “label.” But special education focuses on services and supports based on your child’s needs—not his “label.” When you advocate for your child, that can help teachers understand who your child is in real life—not just on paper. Encourage your child to self-advocate, too. And keep in mind that getting the help he needs now doesn’t necessarily mean your child will be in special education his entire school career.
Taking medication for ADHD is an individual decision you make with the help of your child’s doctor. In fact, IDEA—the federal law covering special education—specifically states that schools can’t require a child to take medication to get services.
Schools get federal funding for special education programs. That funding doesn’t pay for everything. But it helps to ensure that only a small part of the local school budget goes to special education. Your child, like every child, has the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). If your child needs special education services, try not to let concerns about where the school gets that money hold you back.
Some kids do get what’s known as “special transportation.” It’s an option the law allows for, but kids don’t have to take it. If your child goes to his neighborhood school and has no problems on the regular bus or is able to take public transit, there’s no reason he would be taking a special bus.
Kids who get special education services can join the same activities as other kids—both in and outside of school. The law says so! It’s true that some kids with learning and attention issues have a hard time with social situations. But being in special education doesn’t mean kids can’t participate in extracurricular activities. And there are many ways to help kids with social challenges.
Special education has changed a lot over the years. The changes have helped to make sure students get a FAPE and that they’re not separated from their peers without justification. Parents now play a bigger role in the process. There’s more research and awareness of learning and attention issues. And personalized learning, multisensory teaching and assistive technology have changed how many kids are taught.
If you don’t have firsthand experience with special education, it’s natural to worry that you won’t be able to relate to what your child is going through. It can help to find ways to understand your child’s challenges. So can seeing things through your child’s eyes. Having a good relationship with your child’s teachers can help you get ideas on how to support him. Understanding his Individualized Education Program (IEP) is key, too.
Hear about one mom’s experience with giving up “normal.”
Your child’s 504 plan has been set in motion. Is the school delivering what it promised? Use these tips to monitor the situation throughout the year.
At the end of an IEP meeting, you may be asked to sign a draft of the IEP. If you disagree with any part of the IEP, you don’t have to sign right away. Try these tips to make your case.
Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.
Jenn Osen-Foss, M.A.T., is an instructional coach, supporting teachers in using differentiated instruction, interventions and co-planning.
Video: How Do I Get an IEP or 504 Plan for My Child?
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