When you have a child with special needs in the public school system, advocating for your rights and for the rights of your child can be a daunting task. While public schools do offer excellent programs, federal guidelines and legal parameters can make getting appropriate services difficult. Some school systems will use this as an excuse to offer limited services to children with special needs. As a parent, you have the right to advocate for as many services as possible for your child.
If your child has a delay in fine motor or in self-help skills such as feeding and dressing, it is essential that your child receive occupational therapy as part of the school day. While occupational therapy has to be educationally relevant in order to justify services, in the early childhood setting, a delay in these areas is considered educational. If there is a delay in this area, there should be specific goals in your child’s individual education plan (IEP). The occupational therapist working with your child may want to write his or her own goals, but typically, the case manager for your child will write the goals, attaching occupational therapy services to those goals. Make sure that the amount of therapy matches the severity of the delay. If your child has a significant delay of 25 percent or greater in these areas, occupational therapy should be provided at least once per week. If over the course of several months you do not feel like your child is improving, and especially if you see even more declines, ask for an IEP review meeting to increase these services.
Schedule times to meet and observe your child working with therapists in the early childhood special education setting. Ask specific questions and document the answers you receive. Keep your documentation organized and bring your notes to your child’s IEP meeting. Keep in mind that all decisions made concerning your child are a team decision and you have an equal say as part of that team.
If you feel overwhelmed, visit the Parent Education Advocacy Training Center where you can find legal documents, fact sheets, and a glossary of terms. If your child has recently been diagnosed with autism, you may receive an informational kit from Autism Speaks that will help you to know what services are provided and what those services may look like. The bottom line is that you are the expert on your child and you have the right to be heard and to have an active part in your child’s public education.