There is a popular saying out there in the world of special needs parenting,
“At 3, they become the school district’s problem.”
Parents said this to me.
Therapists said it.
Even Doctors said it.
Yes, beginning at age 3, you can request that your child is evaluated for developmental deficiencies that could entitle them to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (known as FAPE).
But if our child has a problem, shouldn’t we also be part of the solution?
It gets complicated. I want to talk about the difference between school-related responsibilities and parent-responsibilities because there is a very blurred line when it comes to advocating for what is appropriate for our children.
This line has become the war zone where parents and school districts often battle each other.
Hear me out fellow parents because I promise — I’m on your child’s side.
When my daughter was first evaluated by our local school district at 3-years-old, they found her delays to qualify her for their public preschool program.
At that point, she was diagnosed by multiple doctors and specialists. We already had her placed into Private Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy. We were also getting outside ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Therapy done at daycare (her fifth daycare to be exact). We were on top of it. As much as we could be, anyway.
In her public preschool program, she received OT and Group Speech. The Child Study Team refused to provide individual speech for two reasons: A) They had a full-time speech therapist in the classroom and B) They found that her language was age-appropriate.
She knew how to count to 20 and could identify all of her letters, colors, and shapes. From the education perspective, she could learn and language was not a barrier hindering her education.
While she mimicked and repeated a variety of advanced words for her age, she had an expressive language delay. A disorder to be exact — as diagnosed by her Board Certified Developmental Pediatrician. This was prevalent in her behaviors.
She banged her head against the wall and self-injured when she was frustrated.
Or struggled to communicate.
We saw this as problem behaviors but her doctor insisted it was a communication issue.
Looking back, I personally think that the doctor was correct. We continued Private Therapies to help with these issues. She stopped injuring herself after about 6 months..
Outside therapy was BEST for her to maximize her potential. She may have gotten by without it but I made a choice.
You need to know that BEST is not a word covered by FAPE.
With that said, there are obstacles that get in the way of teaching a child like mine.
A child with severe behavior.
A child with fine motor skill deficits.
A child who throws their shoes at the bus driver.
A child who has sensory meltdowns and struggles with conformity.
I do my part to work on these things at home and I don’t expect a school to “fix” my child.
But during a 6-hour school day, children need to be able to learn. Those obstacles need to be handled in order to teach children like mine. But how?
Where does that start and where does it end?
For me, it started here. Suppose my child needs to receive Special Education Transportation with an aide because she has a documented history of behaviors on the bus that pose a threat to herself and others. Okay, we put that in her IEP. No big deal. But that might not be enough.
When the child starts to show signs of aggravation that may lead to her throwing her shoes at the bus driver, an aide will need to intervene to de-escalate the situation. But how?
She will try X, Y, and Z as outlined by the child’s behavior intervention plan. That also means that the aid will need to understand X, Y, and Z and may possibly require training. A behavior intervention plan will also need to be implemented by a BCBA or professional for this among other elements of the school day prone to flare ups.
This is where it gets complicated.
Training costs money.
BCBA’s cost money.
Transportation is not their problem.
Why would they train an aid to manage behavior on the bus? Blah blah blah.
I’ll tell you why. Because IF a child is not managed on the bus and throws their shoes at the bus driver and causes a bus filled with children to crash — it is the school district’s fault.
Yes, I said it.
It is the school district’s fault for not providing the proper supports to that child.
Pay for the training instead of the lawsuit.
Don’t risk another child’s life to save money.
It’s that simple.
If we can’t get her to school safely, how is she going to learn there?
This is how I approach my child’s needs.
Think about this scenario when you decide which supports your children need. Think about Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.
I do not in any way expect my local school district to raise my child for me.
I am not looking for them to feed and clothe my child either.
I’m not looking for preferential treatment.
Their job is to educate my child.
My job is to raise her.
I am the first in line to say that almost every district is not doing what needs to be done to properly educate our children. Special education requires a lot of support and training.
This notion that special education is a place rather than a system of supports and services is wrong.
Special education is a partnership. Parents are members of the IEP team. Our input is supposed to matter since we are the experts on our child.
But there comes a point when we must intervene. When we must take actions at home to support our children’s success at school.
For me, it was getting outside Speech, OT, and ABA therapy to work on non-education related things and behaviors. The progress from those therapies carried over into her education (So was it educational after all? Gray area! You decide).
I’m not saying that is true for all children. I decided what was BEST for my child and made sure she got it. I pick and choose my battles; I help where I can and I ask for help when I need it.
What more can we do for our children to help them learn?
I think that is the most important question you need to ask yourself before an IEP meeting.