Being a Special Needs Advocate for your Students

by Howard Gerber on February 7, 2013

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Being a Special Needs Advocate for your Students

When you walk into classrooms, you can see that the dynamics have drastically changed over the last decade or two. Teachers and other educational professionals are faced with students that often have multiple special needs who were not previously integrated into mainstream classrooms. Whether referring to children who have difficulty talking, keeping up with social skills, kids on the Autism Spectrum, or sensory concerns, the items must be addressed. Each individual child with special needs may be entitled to services to help them function within the educational setting. As individuals working with these children, it is often necessary to become an advocate for them to get the services that will help them to be successful within the classroom.

Special Education Referral Process

If you suspect that a child you work with needs to be evaluated, it is time to do a little research. Not every school, district, or state has the same protocol. Typically you will need to ask the principal of the building what is done. Most of the time the principal, will be in charge of starting the Special Education referral process. Once the process begins, the school psychologist will often be in charge of making sure all of the paper work is given to the families, teachers that work with the child, and the Committee on Special Education (CSE) of the district.

Communication with Families

It is extremely important to have open communication with families that you work with. They should be aware of accomplishments the child is making, along with concerns that you may have. Remember it is never acceptable to suggest that a child may have a certain medical condition. As educators, it is fine to give examples of where the child is struggling. Be sure to take notes, observe, and explain exactly where the child is having trouble. You may want to make a portfolio of work to share with the parents and also use when you have the CSE meeting. Be willing to share how accommodations have been made, along with any attempts to assist the child in that area. In great detail.

Your Role in the CSE Meeting

When all of the testing has been finished and the reports sent to the CSE Chairperson, a group of individuals from the school, along with the family of the child, will meet. If you are going to be present at this meeting, be sure to have details about how the child is doing. Strengths and weaknesses should be given. Be comfortable discussing testing results, along with items you may have in a portfolio of work. As an advocate, it is extremely important to explain exactly what you have seen when working with the child. Do not be afraid to share details that may be hard for the families to hear. Assuming you have told them about this before, you are working together to get the right services to help their child.

Going to a CSE meeting may seem intimidating for educational professionals, but remember you are part of a team. Together you are trying to help that child to qualify for Special Education services and then later draft an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). If they do not qualify for an IEP, then you may also be asked to help draft a 504 Plan that will be utilized within the school.

Have you attended CSE meetings in the past? What were some of the challenges you experienced?

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