Does Your Child Have Special Needs?

Still. No. Baby.

Today is the wee one’s official due date.  Since getting up this morning, I have scrubbed and polished the kitchen (what is it about a clean sink and clear countertop that give me so much peace??), laundered our bedding, shaved my legs (with GREAT difficulty), done my hair and make-up, stocked the fridge and pantry, googled ‘arm knitting’ (a new hobby perhaps?), and watched a couple episodes of Brooklyn 9-9 (that show cracks me up!).  My inner productivity junkie is satisfied.  But there is still soooooooooo much day left.

So I thought I’d do some blogging.

Today I’m going to venture into new territory and talk about one of my passions: education.  Even though school doesn’t start until September 8th here, teachers are already getting their classrooms ready and parents are stocking up on back-to-school supplies for their kids.  I love my summers off, but they start to feel pretty long by mid-August and I always looked forward to getting back into my room and setting it up for my next group of learners. 

A couple years ago, I took on the role of Special Education Resource Teacher (SERT) at my school.  Rather than have a class of my own, I was now charged with supporting – in a variety of ways and with teacher and parent involvement – all students at our school with special needs.

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What is considered a ‘special need’, you may wonder? The list is long, but most needs fall under one or more of these categories:

  • physical needs (special equipment or assistance needed to walk, play, eat, or use the washroom)
  • communication needs (deaf and hard of hearing, for example)
  • behaviour needs (difficulties with attention, social interactions, appropriate responses to various stimuli)
  • academic needs (additional support needed to access the curriculum successfully and/or gifted students)
  • safety needs (assistance required to stay in the school building, keep non-food items out of mouth, etc)

Last year, my school had approximately 260 students, 68 of whom had formal Individual Education Plans (IEPs). That’s over 25% of the student population with identified special needs.  And then there was the list of students waiting for support services and possible identification.

Yowza.

In conversation, this is usually where I fall to my knees, pull at my hair and shriek ‘What is happening with our education system?!?!?’ and then spend time rocking and humming quietly in a corner or, preferably, behind some big furniture.

But I thought I would take a different approach today.

Given that the start of the new school year is just around the corner, I thought today’s post could be dedicated to helping those parents whose children may have special needs that have yet to be formally identified.  Because, let’s face it, you’re probably freaking out a little, right?  A teacher has brought some concerns to your attention, or maybe you’ve observed some behaviours that you’re not quite sure are ‘normal’ or typical.  Maybe you’ve got your back up a bit – feeling like a Mama Bear that wants to claw the face off the person who suggested your child may have a little more (or less) going on beneath the surface than his or her peers.

I’ve been a teacher for 13 years, and I have seen the ‘deer in headlights’ reaction that some parents have when confronted with the reality that their child is not progressing, or is behaving in ways that are consistently inappropriate, despite numerous interventions and strategies to support them.  Some flat out reject that there could be even the tiniest possibility of a problem.  Others want to devise a plan of action immediately, but have no idea what they, as parents, can do. They feel helpless and at the mercy of an over-burdened and under-resourced system.

Let me assure you, there is plenty you can do that could result in getting answers sooner.  You see, schools don’t just slap formal identifications on students who do poorly on tests, or who swear like sailors at the principal, or who literally run around the classroom before literally climbing the windows.  Schools need data in order to determine the best next steps for students.  Some of this data comes in the form of simple, daily observations by the teacher.  Other data needs to be obtained by parents through doctors and other services.

If you have concerns about your child, consider doing any of the following that are relevant to get more information:

  • Take your child for a hearing and vision test. Sometimes it’s as simple as needing glasses.
  • Ask your family doctor for a referral to a developmental paediatrician.  Often, the waitlists for these specialists are lengthy, so don’t delay.  Get the referral, then make a list of the specific concerns (yours and/or the school’s) you want to discuss.
  • Find out if your employee benefits cover private occupational and/or speech therapy for your child. While these services can be accessed through most public school boards for free, the wait times can be over a year for occupational therapy and up to three years for speech therapy.
  • If behaviour is a concern, there is likely a local agency to which you can self-refer, meaning you just call them up yourself – no doctor or school referral necessary. You’ll probably go through an intake meeting on the phone, during which time you’ll be asked questions to determine the nature and severity of the behaviour, and then you’ll be put on the…you guessed it…waitlist. Contact your school if you’re not sure of which local agency you should connect with.

A couple other things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t shoot the messenger! You may not like what the teacher is telling you about your child’s progress or behaviour, but teachers bring this stuff up because they care, not to piss you off.  The more you work with the school, the sooner you’ll have answers and your child will, hopefully, get the necessary support to succeed.
  • If you’re comfortable, give the school copies of any doctor’s reports that are relevant.  Often, a formal diagnosis from a doctor is all that is needed to get the ball rolling on a formal identification at school.

If you’re still with me, you are an absolute star!  I’ll leave it at that for today.  Rest assured, I have plenty more to say when it comes to education, our system, and the kiddos I’m so blessed to teach.

Right now, though, I’m feeling a lot of pressure in my pelvis. TMI?  I think a walk waddle swagger around the block may be in order.

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Thanks for reading!

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