July 28, 2021 by HCDE-Texas
The start of a new school year is a busy time for all parents, but even more so for parents of students with special needs or learning disabilities. As you wade through the sea of back-to-school tasks, here are a few tips to help you start the year off right:
Review your child’s IEP
The individualized education program (IEP), or 504, is the cornerstone of your child’s education. The IEP is the product of your meeting with your child’s teacher, therapists, and other relevant school professionals. You discussed your child’s needs and how to meet them, came to an agreement, and signed a formal plan for the next school year.
Review the agreed-upon accommodations and how they will be applied, and make sure they are still relevant to your child’s needs. If you’re unsure, contact the school about holding an IEP review meeting. Also, be sure to note when the IEP expires and if your child is due for reevaluation this year.
With special education comes many meetings and often substantial paperwork of which to keep track. If you haven’t already, try creating a binder or folder to keep meeting notes, calendars, documentation, and other information in sequential order. Keep a calendar of school events and activities, meetings, and conferences and work on it with your child to model calendar-keeping skills. Set a time to organize daily—even if it is only five minutes in the evening—and designate a place in your home for paperwork and school items.
Start a communication log
Keeping a written account of all phone calls, e-mails, meetings, conferences, and notes sent home from your child’s teachers is useful when it comes time to review your child’s individualized education program (IEP). Keep your communication log accessible, and be sure to note the dates, times, and nature of the communications you have regarding school matters.
A great way to ensure frequent communication is to provide a quick checklist that goes back and forth with your child every day. Ask simple yes/no or short-answer questions that the teacher or aide can answer while your child gets ready to go home. For example:
- Johnny ate his lunch (yes/no)
- Janey earned stickers for good behavior in _________
- Billy had trouble with _________
Relieve back-to-school jitters
Talking about changes and the upcoming school year can help reduce some of that back-to-school anxiety! Talk to your child about exciting new classes, activities, and events they can participate in during the new school year. If attending a new school, try to schedule a visit before the first day. Help your child learn where their classes and lockers are if they have them. Discuss transition periods between classes as well as to and from lunch or school.
With older students, it is sometimes helpful to explain the services and accommodations in their IEP, so they know what to expect when school begins.
Connect with your child’s teacher
You are your child’s best advocate and support, so be sure to introduce yourself to their teacher and other staff who will be working with them. If you can, set up a meeting before school starts, but always take advantage of school events. Provide your child’s teacher with information on your child’s strengths, challenges, and tools to help them. You know best how to help your child stay calm and focused, manage difficult transitions, or interact with peers. However, let everyone know that you are available to talk and willing to consider options. Make it known that you are eager to be included in your child’s educational experience. Provide your child’s teacher with your preferred method of contact ask about the best way to connect with them.
Keep everyone informed
It is important that you and the school communicate early and often. If there is anything that you feel is important to share with the staff working with your child before school starts or during the year (concerns, changes, questions about the IEP), don’t hesitate to contact them. The more proactive and honest you are, the better equipped the school staff will be to meet your child’s needs.
Take advantage of opportunities to help you and your child get a feel for the school, teachers, staff, students, and families, such as Open Houses, parent nights, and parent-teacher conferences. Share positive information about working with your child with teachers, family members, and friends to teach your child to recognize personal strengths and positive traits within themselves.
Get plugged in
Being knowledgeable about your child’s IEP and their learning disability can help you become a better advocate for your child. Subscribe to local newsletters and special needs community forums to stay in the know about events, legislative updates, training opportunities, family stories, and more.
Check out these great resources:
- Texas Parent to Parent Newsletters
- University of Houston Parent Education Project: Resources for Families and Children with Disabilities
- Houston Family Magazine: Houston Area Special Needs Resource Guide
The more you know, the more prepared you will be to navigate the world of special education and successfully advocate for your child.
For additional back-to-school information and resources, visit the links below: