As a parent of a special needs child, one often does not know where to begin. It all can depend on how old the child is when he or she is diagnosed. If a child is age 3 or older, one of the first things a parent should do is to request his or her child to have an individualized education plan (IEP).
Even if a child does not have a specific diagnosis, an IEP may be given based on general categories, such as a communication based disorder. How does a parent obtain an IEP
Each state, different school districts, or even different schools in the same district, have different guidelines when it comes to the specifics, but all must follow the rules set forth in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which entitles every child to a free, appropriate public education (known as FAPE). It is the definition of what constitutes a FAPE where each school district and state differs.
The first step in the process, no matter the locale, is to request that the school evaluate the child to see if he or she should have special services. Teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals and professionals such as psychologists will gather information (from the child's parents, doctors, etc.), perform tests and observe the child over a specified amount of time. It is at this point that a parent should receive a copy of Parents Rights in Special Education: Notice of Procedural Safeguards. This booklet will outline the rights of parents and children as specified by that state. It also contains local resources for parents.
After the initial evaluation, the parent will review the recommendations. The parent can agree in part or in whole. The parts that the parent agrees with will be implemented and a compromise on the others will be made at some future time or will not be implemented at all, depending on the consent of the parent. A parent does not have to agree to any or all of the recommendations. If he or she does not agree, there is a due process that is outlined in the Notice of Procedural Safeguards for the parents to follow.
If a FAPE cannot be made with the IEP, a parent has the right for the child to attend another school at the cost of the school district, but certain guidelines must be followed first. Those guidelines vary by state and can be found in the Notice of Procedural Safeguards.
If a child has behavioral problems, the IEP process can be utilized to work as a behavioral contract between the school personnel, the student and the parent(s). The goals contained in the IEP will be specific to that child's actions that were a struggle in the past and contain strategies for how to help the child overcome the struggles. This is where the parent can best influence how the school will handle the child's misbehavior and make it streamlined with how things are handled at home.