As a parent of a special needs child, you do your best to meet your child’s unique needs but once the child leaves the house and goes into a school or daycare setting, all of your control goes out the window. And no matter how well you might have prepared the school by alerting the staff to your child’s diagnosis, there is still the possibility you will find yourself dealing with a teacher who doesn’t understand your child’s needs and refuses to make allowances for behavior and/or needs that are unique to your child.
The result of this disconnect can be a litany of classroom-related issues with which too many parents of special needs children are familiar: incomplete assignments, behavior problems, poor grades, requests for extra help at home, and ultimately, a parent-teacher conference.
So what can you do to help you child deal with a difficult classroom situation? Here are some useful strategies:
Inform the school administration at the beginning of the year of your child’s needs.
Share information about your child’s learning, medical, emotional, and/or physical disabilities. This important first step lays the groundwork for dealing with issues if they arise later.
Request a parent/teacher conference.
According to the National Parent Teacher Association, a parent-teacher conference is a "time when important people in a student’s life can talk about how that student is doing in school." Parents are the experts about their child, and teachers are the experts about the child’s grade-level requirements.
Prior to attending a parent-teacher conference, parents are encouraged to speak to their child about school, including his favorite and least favorite subjects. Tell your child about the upcoming meeting with the teacher and the shared goal of helping him succeed at school. Additionally, ask your child if he has any questions or concerns that the parent may address with the teacher, as well as what the child likes best about his instructor. Parents may also benefit from preparing and prioritizing a list of their own questions. Plan to ask the teacher about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as about the frequency and effectiveness of accommodations used for their child’s special needs. Parents may obtain useful handouts about their child’s disability to share with the teachers.
At the conference, parents and teachers discuss your child’s progress in school by alternately sharing information about the child, listening to each other’s point of view, and asking pertinent questions. The goal is often to identify the child’s academic and behavioral successes, as well as any diff culties.
Once agreement has been established about what issues to work on fi rst, parents and teachers can discuss strategies and accommodations that may ease the diffi culties for the child with special needs. Parents are encouraged to provide information about what has benefi ted their child in past, while teachers propose strategies that have helped with similar children. At the end of the conference, parents and teachers decide when to meet next in order to monitor the child’s progress, review their action plan, and discuss any needed changes.
Involve other school faculty.
If parent-teacher conferences do not resolve the child’s diffi culties, involvement of other school faculty is recommended. The school psychologist, guidance counselor, and/or special education resource teacher may refi ne the present action plan, and they can assist in the creation of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan for children with eligible disabilities. Some parents also choose to hire a special education advocate to help them in the development of the child’s IEP.
Switch classes or schools.
Other options include changing the child’s primary class placement and teacher within their present school, transferring the child to a charter school or a private school that serves children with special needs, or homeschooling. Additional school resources include involving the principal, superintendent, and school board members.
Parent-teacher partnerships are essential for children with special needs to succeed at school. Research has demonstrated that when parents and teachers work together, students perform better academically with higher grades and they have better behavior, attendance, and attitudes toward school and themselves.