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Design a Roadmap -- with Help Posts Along the Way -- For your Child with Special Needs

By Judith Greenberg, Ph.D.
President, School Finders, LLC

Families of a special needs child often need help and guidance to navigate the schools, doctors and specialists that try to advise and help the children and families. Typical store bought parenting books will not help parents who are searching for the path to help their child who has been diagnosed with a special needs disability. Finding support, family help, school suggestions and specialists are the starting grounds, however, the next steps are often difficult to determine and harder to complete. I always suggest that the best approach is to draw up and follow a map of the people you think may really want to help you, such as: your friends and family, pediatrician, psychologist, your child's school, specific organizations, and most importantly, your own intuition.

Your child's age and the diagnosis of your child's special needs help determine the map that you create. However, my main recommendation is to get a solid start to home activities that include: getting ready for bed, dressing in the morning, doing chores, eating and listening to parents. These are all survival musts for a child and for the sanity of his or her family. Having a student behave in school is the next step on this map, and it is as critical in his life as his home behavior but it is vital to develop the school path as this is a larger setting and the student will have more rules and discipline to deal with in school then at home. Getting ready for school each day needs to be an important element.

Mornings can be very difficult if a child has to make decisions or doesn't like your choices. Start the night before and let your child make one or two clothing choices. Only one outfit may be worn the next day, the second one is an extra in case of a change in the weather. If bathing is an issue, do that at night too. This leaves a lot less stress for the morning rush of activities and will help to make the school day easier.

As you help your child prep for school, please remember that a half an hour is not the same to your child as it is to you. Children have a different internal clock and time is endless, so you need to use a timer, or cell phone to remind him that only fifteen minutes are left before leaving for the school bus. When it comes to behaviors that you would like to improve, try a sticker reward chart or a win a computer or video time reward for a day or week of your child's controlling a specific behavior. If you think two behaviors can be worked on, that is fine, however try to work on one first and see what your child can deal with in a week. Study what makes your child happy and then reward with "happy things". Do not punish as this just makes life harder for a child that is trying to understand what is expected of her. Start off slowly and gradually move up to expectations. School success needs to be on your map. This does not mean that you require your child to be getting A's, but it does mean that reasonable expectations are set, and some of them can be met by your child without great pain and stress.

If you are satisfied with your public school and your child has an IEP or 504 Plan, be sure to set up a meeting to review the plan before school starts each year as your child's needs change quickly and it is better to be ready when school starts, not after issues arise two months later. Schools can't make you wait for a deadline date, you should be able to schedule a meeting any time you feel there is a problem or concern. Schools have to accommodate your child and follow through on their promises. Be aware of bullying issues and other related possibilities. Take your child very seriously if he or she comes home miserable. Set up a meeting with the teacher, psychologist, and relevant administrator if the state of misery continues for more than a couple of days.

Make the school uphold its' promises, and your state and county's rules for special needs education. If you chose to enroll you child in a private school be sure to attend Open House visits and also ask if you can visit on a regular day to talk with the principal, counselor, service providers, psychologist or any other professionals that pertain to your child. Do not select a school for your child based on only a friend's opinion as her child's needs may be very different than yours. Working with an educational consultant or child advocate is also helpful since such professionals attend meetings and visits schools all the time and will know answers to your questions and help find the best public or private school for your child. A private school must also accept the IEP or 504 Plan but may change it as the staff gets to know your child and then make the plan fit their program or even change to a specific Learning Plan that the school follows.

You are never alone because you always have your maps and your priorities. We live in a time when research organizations are finding so many ways to help families with special needs children and there are groups all across the nation who help families get the help that their children need. Join an organization that supports families with special needs. There are many online, or you can check with your religious leaders, school, relatives, educational consultants, and neighbors. Financial planners and attorneys who handle trusts for special needs children and families can be helpful professionals. Help is out there, even on days when you wish you could scream, hide under the bed or just get a massage.

Judith Greenberg is a special education consultant and school placement expert based in Maryland. She consults all over the country via phone and Skype. You can reach her at schoolfind@aol.com or (301) 230-9010

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.

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