If you have a child with social, emotional, or academic concerns you may want to read this. I am a mother of three beautiful and amazing children. All three are unique in their own ways. I am also a social worker who recently opened up private practice so I can share my knowledge and experience with others in a more personable and different way. I have over 10 years of experience in community mental health with children and adolescents and 10 years experience as a mother of three children with unique special needs in the areas of social, emotional and academic. So one could say I am fairly experienced in the area. I’ve attended many special education meetings at school both as a parent and as a professional. I work hard and love to collaborate with school staff to help provide supports and accommodations to children with all needs. Along the way I have met some amazing educators. With that being said, I have also had my fair share of struggles with educators. I want to take a moment to share what a struggle it has been both professionally and personally to get the needs of these children met. There are many thoughts I have on why this is. One thing I learned in the last several years is that teachers and school personnel do not have an adequate understanding of some of the mental health and educational disorders out there. Infact, I was told at one meeting when I inquired about an auditory processing disorder, that the school does not have the means to appropriately test for an auditory processing disorder. When information was presented to schools and counselors, I found that they did not even understand what this type of disorder is and how it can impact a child’s learning socially, emotionally and academically if needs are not met. In my experience this has been true for most processing disorders and also for children struggling with ADD and ADHD, executive functioning and sensory processing disorder. I also found many of them unwilling to listen and acknowledge information presented to them. I got many responses dismissing my arguments because “it was not impacting the child’s learning”. I am not saying that this is true for all teachers and school personnel, but I found it to be true for a large majority. The biggest struggle I discovered is that if your child is not a behavior problem, then they can slip through the cracks very easily.
I am currently working with a 7th grade girl who cannot read and write a full sentence. She is in the 7th grade and her school continues to push her through the system despite efforts to have her placed in an academic environment that is more equipped to educate her properly. I work with kids who are severely depressed and feeling discouraged and hopeless at school. As I dig deeper with them, I learn that they are struggling with learning disabilities that have gone undiagnosed and unrecognized by the school. Parents find the battle with schools exhausting and hopeless and often times give up as a result.
I have dealt with many schools who do not return emails or phone messages unless hounded by a professional. I contacted one school regarding a client of mine four times in one week before finally receiving a return call the following week. I am not one to give up and I don’t go down without a fight so it makes it difficult for them to avoid me.
Unfortunately I am feeling beaten down and frustrated both as a professional and as a parent. To make matters worse, when you go into a school to inform the school that you recognize concerns with your child based off the work coming home, they sit you in a room with 8 of them and one of you. They proceed to look at you and ask “So tell me what is going on at home?” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when they ask this. I’ve been in meetings with testing done to prove that there are multiple things going on with a child and still turned away because a teacher can say that “it is not affecting the student academically”. Can you tell I am fed up?
I am writing because I know there are so many other parents out there feeling lost when it comes to finding answers and support for their children. I have learned through the years that there is a very specific and fine process one must go through in order to get their child’s needs met. I decided that it is my mission to educate families who are interested in learning more about how they can advocate and get their child’s needs met at school by hosting workshops. I also decided to write a few ideas down for parents to guide them in beginning the process of getting help for their child or in my case children.
1. Learn how to recognize the signs of struggle. This is a pretty easy one in my opinion. I knew my daughter was struggling because she would cry during homework and tell us she didn’t understand. Sometimes she would shut down before even trying. She would cry about going to school the next day. She became withdrawn and lost her appetite on several occassions. She lost sleep at night. Other kids struggle behaviorally and will act out at home or school. If your child is acting out or showing signs of anxiety, depression or increased stress during the school year, you have every right to be concerned. Do not ignore these signs.
2. Begin by asking questions about your child’s progress in the classroom through email. Using email allows you to begin a paper trail of who, when, where, what, and why you are concerned. It allows you to track when you emailed a teacher, what information you received or did not receive, how often you were concerned etc. Be open and honest with the teacher making sure to inform them of your concerns with your child, what you are seeing at home, what you are doing at home to accommodate your child’s needs.
3. Do not be afraid to be pushy. I struggled with this for years. I hate being a pushy person. I am a people pleaser and I want people to like me so telling a teacher how I felt or that I disagreed was not easy. I was always appropriate with how I communicated, but I became a person who was able to tell a teacher when I was frustrated and did not feel that my child’s needs were being met. I had an experience at one time where I got an email back from the principal stating that I was no longer allowed to email the teacher because it was causing too much stress. I felt terrible, but I needed to be heard. Good news is that the principal was able to meet my child’s needs.
4. Listen to your gut. For 2 years I listened to teachers tell me that there was nothing wrong with my daughter and that I needed to give her more time. Well I finally decided to listen to my gut and take her for testing on what I thought was an auditory processing disorder. It concluded that my daughter did infact struggle significantly with auditory processing which was why she was struggling in the classroom and beginning to show signs of high anxiety and depression by third grade. I also had to listen to my gut in regards to advocating for my children and clients in other areas where school insisted there was no issue. 9 out of 10 times my gut was right.
5. Request academic testing through school. If you feel that your child is struggling and feel that he or she may have a learning disorder of some kind, always request academic testing. You want to put it in writing for the school. If you do this, the school by law has to provide a meeting to discuss your concerns in a timely manner. If agreed upon, the school then has a very specific amount of time to get the testing and meetings complete.
6. Request a copy of the results from testing before you attend the meeting to go over the results. Special education meetings can be extremely overwhelming and intimidating especially if you are new to learning about educational needs. Take some time to review the results. Share them with your child’s PCP before the meeting.
7. Get your child’s Primary Care Provider (PCP) involved. Always make a call to your child’s pediatrician and discuss any concerns you have with him or her. Typically they will help guide you and if they are really good they will even help to advocate for your child to have testing done. When testing is completed, get a copy and share with your child’s PCP before the meeting to get feedback on what your child’s PCP wants to do with regards to moving forward.
8. Don’t be afraid to get a therapist of life coach who specializes in child development and educational needs. This can be a support for both you and your child. I think parents are sometimes afraid to take their child to a therapist because they feel that their child will feel like there is something wrong with them. This is never usually the case. 99% of all children I’ve worked with feel relieved when a therapist gets involved and helps to advocate for them. A therapist has education in educational needs and can help to build accommodations and supports for your child. A therapist or coach can educate parents on what can be done to help your child and can also shed some light on what is going on with your child. Often times a therapist is the one to recognize the disorder in the first place. If you choose to have your child seen by a therapist, ask the therapist to write a letter with diagnosis and suggestions that may benefit your child in the classroom.
9. Get outside testing done. There are so many areas of processing where school is not equipped to do adequate testing on many processing disorders. In my experience outside testing is more accurate and assesses for a wider variety of issues. Outside testing allows for more information regarding what is going on with your child. I also feel that the accommodations recommended by an outside provider is more detailed and specific.
10. Learn as much about your child’s disorder or condition as possible. You can Google just about anything these days. Once your child is diagnosed with a specific area of dysfunction, do anything and everything possible to learn more about it. Often times you can learn about the diagnosis online as well as get recommendations for your child. There are also agencies around that will answer questions you have. You can learn more by contacting the department of education as well.
11. Get your child re-evaluated every year. If you have outside testing done for a processing disorder such as ADD, ADHD, executive functioning, sensory processing, auditory or visual processing, have your child re-evaluated each year. This evaluator will become a great asset in your child’s IEP or 504 planning. Yearly evaluation is also a great way to continue to learn about your child’s disability and it is also a great way to track progress or lack of.
12. Make sure all you child’s teachers are aware of his/her IEP/504 plan. At the start of each school year I always recommend that parents email a copy of their child’s school plan to each teacher who will be working with that child. I also encourage parents to request a team meeting with the special ed team and teachers to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding accommodating the child’s needs. If you request a meeting they have to give it to you.
13. Communicate regularly with your child and make sure he/she understands what they are allowed to do at school. I make weekly appointments with each of my kids for 30 minutes to allow them time to discuss concerns they have about school. At first it was like pulling teeth, but now they know what the half hour is for and I cannot get them to stop talking. They love meeting and have so much to say. This is great opportunity to educate them about their disability and needs and encourage them to become an active participant in getting their needs met.
14. Take care of yourself. The biggest reason why kids fall through the cracks in the school system is due to lack of follow through from parents. Most often I see parents get beaten down and discouraged with the education system and I see them give up. I find that I too have moments where I feel this way and let go of the fight for several months only to find my child regress. I learned that I am my child’s biggest and most constant advocate. In order for me to stay strong and secure with myself I need to make sure I have the right supports around me and I am taking care of me first. It’s like they say on an airplane, “put your mask on first before putting your child’s on”. The same is true when fighting for your child’s rights and needs. You must be healthy and strong to endure the battle.
If you or someone you know is struggling to be heard or is feeling lost in the education process, please consider attending one of my upcoming workshops or make a life coaching appointment with me. You can learn more about my services at http://www.mindbodyspiritcounseling.net. Please feel free to contact me with questions or concerns. Don’t forget to “LIKE” https://www.facebook.com/mindbodyspiritcounseling on Facebook for up to date information and resources.