With school back in session, parents across the country are sending their child back to school with high hopes and perhaps a bit of anxious worries. How will they adjust? Will they find good friends?
Parents of students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan know these worries all too well. An IEP is a legal educational document that is developed from a team of specialists for a child in need of special education. A 504 plan ensures special accommodations for those with disabilities.
Parents often become well informed of the IEP and/or 504 plan, and quickly learn to advocate for their child’s needs. However, parents cannot be in the classroom every moment, so it is vital to teach the child to understand the services and accommodations they are guaranteed under their plan and how to independently advocate for themself within a busy classroom setting.
Why should I teach my child to be an advocate?
Children may be hesitant, embarrassed or not realize they can speak up for their needs while at school. Perhaps a busy teacher may forget to allow for extra time on a test or that the child was supposed to be sent to speech before lunch. Whatever the case, teaching them to self advocate sets them up for success not only now, but in the future as there will not always be someone present to advocate for them.
Throughout the school day, a student experiences a variety of settings and not everyone they come in contact with at school will be aware of their needs, so it is important for them to be informed and confident. Empowering them with greater understanding of their disability, accommodations and IEP can help them feel less embarrassed and confident in speaking up and asking for what they need.
How do I help my child be more confident in speaking up and advocating?
Knowledge is power and understanding their disability can build confidence in a child and help them be less anxious. For example, a student with dyslexia who struggles to read, but understands that their brain works differently can educate their friends who in turn can be more supportive and compassionate. Confidence is key to enable a child to advocate for their accommodations, goals and needs at school.
Young children often fear that teachers will resent children who remind them of their accommodations or ask too many questions.
Ensure them that teachers respect active learners and that they look forward to helping all students, regardless of their learning disability. Don’t let the fear of speaking up discourage your child from advocating for themselves.
Help your child express their growing understanding as you practice asking for help in a positive way. Use roleplay and humor to rework situations that have proven uncomfortable in the past or to help spark solutions to problems hidden in your child's imagination. Emphasize that in school, as in most of life, good manners and a positive attitude usually work well.
How do I help my child understand their IEP and 504 plan?
Most importantly, a student must understand what an IEP is, why they have it and what the goals are. If possible, involve your child in the process. This is the perfect opportunity for them to speak up and give input on what they feel might be going well and what is not. Check in often between meetings with your child about how things are going. Remind them periodically of their IEP, services and accommodations to be sure they understand what should be happening. Remind your child they are part of the “IEP team” and they can and should be involved.
Navigating disabilities with your child can be daunting, but teaching and empowering your child to advocate for their needs and speak up confidently is a key component to success now and in the future.