Successful Special Education

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.
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. Take notes during the conference that you can refer to at following conferences.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
  • Volunteer wherever help is needed: Work in the lunchroom, bring cookies to PTA meetings, tutor other students. It's good for your child to see you there. Special children often have social difficulties. Being at school as a volunteer enables you to observe your child's social skills. Don't be angry if other children don't help him; they are only children and often make immature decisions.
  • Consider difficulties as blessings. Look to God for hope.
  • Respond objectively when another student hurts your child. "I always try to ask myself, 'Is this a situation that any other child would encounter in the course of growing up?'" said Susan. "If so, you can thank God that your child was included in the normal mainstream of life. You can discuss appropriate responses with him. However, if there is a physical thread to the child or if he has been singled out for group ridicule, inform the school personnel so those responsible can be watched."
  • Give the child a daily homework assignment sheet that the teacher will complete. The child must take the responsibility for picking it up after class, bringing home the necessary worksheets, maps, books, etc., and giving the sheet back to the teacher at the first class the next day. Have a set routine and work place for homework. As soon as your child comes home, ask for the assignment sheet and necessary materials. If he has forgotten something, you will still have time to drive back to school to get it. Let him have a snack and time to play outside after school. After his playtime, he needs to start his homework.
  • Don't ask the school to be responsible for your child. There may be things the school cannot do because of lack of funds and personnel. You can help by giving of your time, by praying, and by being available to both your child and his teacher.v
  • Act on behalf of your child. A parent may find it necessary to confront school personnel about an area in which the school has failed to fulfill a clearly recognized educational responsibility. In that event, be firm but not hostile. If you absolutely cannot resolve the situation, consider removing your child from that particular school setting. However, this action should be taken only as a last resort.
  • Praise and encourage your child's hard work and have fun with him!
Adapted from Helping Your Child Succeed in Public School, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 1993, 1999, Cheri Fuller. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

Next in this Series: For Bright and Talented Children

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