The United States boasts that students have the right to learn in the "least restrictive environment". This is an ideology that is to guide the education of every child regardless of ability that has been in place since 1975. The thought that all children should receive the education that is best for them is a lovely principle. However, as those reading this page know, any adjustment to standard environments in school requires what feels like an epic battle. IEPs, 504s, paraprofessionals, aides, counselors, sped teachers, etc are present, but not readily available.
Part of a parent's job is to fight for their children's best interests, but so often, we lack understanding of the complex needs of their diverse diagnoses. We rely on school resources, doctors, and other experts to help us learn about our children's needs and organize plans to help them succeed in school and life. However, when these systems break down or seem to ignore the big needs of our children, their successes feel impossible to ensure.
I read every day in support groups for parents of special needs children that schools are failing them and they cannot afford private testing that can cost thousands of dollars and be difficult to find and schedule. I am more than aware that, especially now, these resources are overwhelmed and understaffed. But when we, as parents, see our kids floundering and falling through the cracks, it feels as if they will never get the help they need.
School based, free testing is available and often demanded by the school. However, not all school entities know this or how to get it. Many teachers and staff refer students to private testing for parents to later learn that school testing is preferred. This further complicates the problem and lengthens the time for students to gain the resources they need to succeed.
I want to be clear here, I am NOT blaming teachers or support staff for these challenges. They are very often doing everything they possible can to help each individual child where they are.
So, how do we, as parents get our kids what they need within the school system that is overwhelmed and understaffed?
This will depend some on your specific location.
But, to begin with, be up front with teachers regarding what you already know about your student. This is delicate as teachers often hear exaggerations from parents or experience a different child in the classroom than we do at home. However, you give the teacher a head start if you can tell them who your child is with you.
Open communication is paramount. Be available. Be active and proactive wherever you can be. You may see struggles in your child's behaviors before they show up in school and grades. If you see a change in behavior, let the teacher know. If there have been environmental changes like a move, new sibling, divorce, death in the family, etc, let the teacher know. They know these life changes cause behavior and schoolwork changes and they can be watchful for red flags.
Be present as much as possible. In this day, most families need two working parents, or have only one parent present which complicates this. We're exhausted after working all day, can't be present while working all day, might have other kids to contend with, not to mention to Dr visits, potential therapies, cooking, and cleaning. Parenting special needs kids is thankless and never ending. I know. TRY to muster up some energy to be present with your kids, all of them, in the afternoons and evenings and weekends to support their growth--academic, emotional, and physical. Even simply collapsing onto the couch together to exist and chat can be a balm to you both. Go to parent/teacher conferences. Communicate with teachers and staff. Know what is happening at school, with friends, and at home.
We all want our kids to succeed in life. School is such a large part of early life and it seems everything revolves around one's academic success. As I watch my husband, Leigh, struggle with his college courses (again), I realize that he wasn't identified as a young child and didn't get the supports he needed. He has now been diagnosed with autism and adhd and I suspect he struggles with dysgraphia as well. He never learned how to overcome these struggles. He masked and hid and faked his way through barely graduating from high school. He is, however, a brilliant computer systems engineer and is very successful in his career. Computers made sense to him. He was raised during the time personal computers came into households and he embraced them. Math, science, and computing make sense. Language does not. The requirements of school based learning don't make sense to him either. He doesn't understand why one who desires a science based career must learn to write an argumentative paper. Being well-rounded as a person doesn't matter to him (I am trying to ensure our children realize the importance!). He doesn't understand the need to jump through hoops and please other people to earn a degree that will simply prove he already knows what he knows. He is doing it because the world said to. But he is not enjoying it. As an adult he can accept this game, but so many children are thrust into it and don't understand and can't accept it.
Parents must play the school game with their children. We must fight for our children to learn in their least restrictive environments. The importance of the LRE is evident to me as I parent and teach and support those navigating the system. Through my master's I hope to help schools and teachers better understand how to help their students. If you need more support as you go to battle fighting for your child's right to learn, let me know. Reach out here or on instagram @kendrarogersauthor or on FB. I look forward to joining you!