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A Job Like No Other: The Role of Parents of Children With Special Needs

written by: Stephanie Torreno • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 10/23/2014

Being a parent is likely the most difficult job one can accept. This job becomes even more difficult when a child has disabilities. Discover the important roles of parents of children with special needs and how critical they are to a child’s education and development.

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    Advocating for Your Child’s Education

    One of the most important roles that parents of children with disabilities can take on is as an educational advocate for them. Since Your Child With Disabilities your child has the right to a free appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), your advocacy will help ensure that a school meets the unique educational needs of your child.

    To best advocate for your child, participate in the development of your child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) annually. Under the law, the school must inform you of an IEP meeting and arrange it at a convenient time and place. You should participate in all IEP decisions. Make sure an IEP includes specific goals and objectives, which will make certain that everyone involved in your child’s education works toward the same goals. Take the IEP home to review it before signing it. You have ten school days in which to make a decision. And remember, you may request an IEP meeting at any time during the school year.

    As your child’s advocate, your goal is to have your child educated in the least restrictive environment possible. An educational program should be developed to provide your child with the services and support that typical children enjoy. When appropriate, your child should be included in regular school activities, such as art, music, physical education, lunch, and recess.

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    Prepare for IEP Meetings

    The role as your child’s representative brings with it important tasks. Before attending an IEP meeting, list goals you want your child to reach. Take notes about aspects of your child's behavior or needs that could interfere with reaching these goals. Share any methods you have used to deal with these behaviors or needs.

    Bring any copies of medical records, past school records, or evaluation results the school may not have to an IEP meeting. Since reports do not include all information about a child, you can add real-life examples to illustrate your child's specific abilities. Learn what related services will be provided, and ask each professional what improvement you might see as a result of these services. In addition, ask what you can do at home to support the program. Ask the teacher to inform you when your child is learning a new skill so that it can be practiced at home.

    Your child's education should be viewed as a cooperative effort among teachers, specialists, therapists, and you. If you disagree with the school at any time over your child's educational and developmental needs, request another meeting. This will give you and the school more time to gather further information. After a second meeting, ask for a mediator or a due process hearing if conflict over your child’s program still exists.

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    A Parent's Most Important Role

    Of all the roles parents of children with disabilities must take, the most important may be to teach children how to become their own advocate. This role will serve them well as they act as their own best representatives.