When evaluated at age two, Susan Gainer's son Joshua had an IQ of 50. His parents were told he would probably never walk, talk or have a normal life. "No hope," the doctor said. Joshua did not speak until he was six years old. But through the prayers, patience and dedication of his parents and Susan's work with the school, Joshua (now 18) reads at a 10th grade level; his vocabulary is post-college level; and he has never made below a C in a regular class. He is in regular ninth-grade classes except for math, has friends, and is responsible and organized.
The difficulties Susan faced with her child may be different from your struggles, but I wanted to share what she has learned from guiding her special son through 14 years of public education.
Susan's Suggestions for Helping a Child With Special Educational Needs
- Keep all testing results, records and conference notes in a file at home in order to track your child's progressive development.
- Claim your rights as parents to access your child's academic file. Don't allow a school to keep records from you. A child's academic history can play a considerable role in his course placement. Before Susan's children changed schools and districts, she removed the records she felt would prejudice testing in the new school and kept them for further reference.
- Set goals slightly beyond your child's capability. If he fails, lower the expectations to a level where he can succeed. "However, I found with my own child that he never failed, and we were continually setting new, higher goals," Susan said. "I see many learning disabled and special education students who are not challenged because parents and professionals do not want to 'frustrate the child.' They are given meaningless grades just for putting forth minimum effort. No one knows what potential these children have because they have never been asked to work.
"They need to experience failure and overcome obstacles. Your child may need to work twice as hard to make a C, but the character it builds equips him to function as an adult in a world that will not make accommodations for him in the workplace."
- Have regular conferences.
- Make an appointment the first week of school for a conference with all your child's teachers. Let them know you are going to request their observations of your child's progress and behavior.
- Have at least one conference per grading period. Susan also receives Joshua's weekly report that contains his grade average, behavior evaluation and notification of missing assignments.
- Write down all your questions as well as any new information that you feel would be helpful to the teacher before you go to the conference.
- Take notes during the conference that you can refer to at following conferences.
- Listen to the teachers. They have valuable input that you need by may not want to hear; give them the benefit of the doubt. Go home and think about their comments before you react or make a decision about what you've heard.
- Assume your child's teachers are trying to do the best for your child. An adversarial approach cannot build the kind of partner relationship your child needs you to have with his teacher.
- Encourage teachers to call as soon as a problem arises and show appreciation for their help. Bad habits and difficulties need to be dealt with immediately to avoid creating a pattern.