Written by Tannis Sigfusson; Photo: Fotolia.com
Navigating and advocating the school system when your child is diagnosed with special needs can be very daunting. However, as the parent of a child with special needs, you hold out hope, belief, and a yearning that the school system and all those who work within the system have your child’s best interests and well-being at heart. Unfortunately, in some cases, that is not the way it appears.
You must advocate for your child and take the necessary steps to ensure your child is receiving the best education and supports they rightfully deserve. If you don’t fight for your kid’s needs, who will? You know your child best!
Is your child being pulled from the school they are attending? Are you being told to switch programs? Maybe you feel there are no options? Have you been told your child is ‘bad’ or ‘uncontrollable’?
If you are one of these families and you find yourself in a very challenging spot, please consider the following strategies:
Express your concerns through written communication, such as an email or a letter, so you have a paper trail of your discussion with the school (you may need them as proof and/or if you need to take your concerns to a higher authority).
- Provide a list of things you know that could be helpful tools or strategies to assist the school when your child is experiencing challenges; you know what your child’s strengths and interests are.
- Schedule a meeting with the school’s principal, teacher, educational assistant, or resource teacher to discuss your concerns.
- Bring someone that you feel comfortable with to support you in the meetings (natural supports); a family member, a friend, or a caregiver.
- Always take notes at every meeting.
- Approach each meeting with a solution focus and plan in place.
- When leaving a meeting, be sure there is a date to check in again or another meeting planned. If this isn’t possible, follow up with your child’s teacher or principal via email.
- Check in frequently with your child’s teacher, educational assistant, and other support staff to ensure the changes or plan implemented is being carried out.
- Be clear about your role as the parent and their role as the educators and school administration. If you are being called to the school constantly to pick up your special need’s child, this is not a viable option.
- If the school continues to fail your child after multiple attempts to address ongoing issues, take your concerns to a higher authority from the school board.
- It can be very empowering and helpful to write a letter to the school or to the class informing what your child’s challenges and needs are. You can make it sound like your child wrote the letter; it can be engaging and creates awareness and conversation between the other students and their parents.
- Consider attending support groups (for example, The Children’s Link) where you can network and share ideas with other parents who are going through similar experiences as you.
- Give yourself space and time to absorb and feel what is happening; it can be very stressful.
Always remember, you are your child’s best advocate.
Tannis is the Family Liaison and Program Coordinator at The Children’s Link Society. The Children’s Link provides resources, information, parent-to-parent connections, and hope to families and professionals who care for and work with children and youth with special needs. They know and believe all children and youth with special needs are whole and have a rightful place within their community. To learn more, visit childrenslink.ca.