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I Recently Discovered My Child has Special Needs. What Should I Do Now?

Finding out that your child has special needs can be challenging to hear. Depending on their diagnosis, they may need a litany of support throughout their earliest stages of development through adulthood. Nevertheless, no matter how hard the road ahead may seem, loving parents and guardians with the proper knowledge and tools can provide their child with a wonderful life and ensure they receive a quality education.

Understanding Your Child’s Needs

Special needs can come in various forms, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder, speech and language delays, learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral disabilities, and many others.  Each child requires an individualized approach to address their specific needs and advance through their education; oftentimes, multiple diagnoses and areas of need will be present.  Therefore, once a parent or guardian discovers their child has been diagnosed with a disability, they should talk to their child’s healthcare provider for more information about the diagnosis and resources available to them.

Talk to Your Child’s School

Education is the cornerstone of any child’s development but becomes a vital aspect of any special needs child’s life. Unfortunately, many households cannot afford the cost of private school or comprehensive special needs services. Thus, the public school provides most families with the necessary resources to educate their child and help build crucial life skills. When a parent or guardian learns that their child has a disability or suspects their child has a disability and is in public school, they should notify the school administrator immediately to get the ball rolling.

Developing an IEP

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that sets national standards for the education of special needs students across the United States. One crucial aspect of IDEA is that all eligible students must have an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) developed to meet their specific needs.

When drafting an IEP, parents will typically meet with teachers, school administrators, special education professionals, and other relevant personnel. IEPs include a child’s present level of performance in core education subjects and developmental areas, specific goals based on this, and a list of services and accommodations tailored to their particular needs. IEPs also include the amount of time, if any, a child spends separated from non-disabled students, whether the child will be included in district-wide assessment evaluations, and tailored metrics the school district may use to track that child’s performance.

When to Seek Legal Representation

Federal and state law sets strict standards for special education. Nonetheless, many factors may hinder a school district’s ability to provide certain services, and some districts can be slow to embrace their legal obligations to students. If a school district fails to provide certain services, fails to cooperate in developing and implementing an IEP, changes your child’s placement, or causes concerns in any other manner, parents should consider contacting a legal professional for representation.