Identifying your goals and dreams for your child is an important first step in planning for inclusion and a quality education. The next step is using your ideas and plans to influence the school system. You will need to be involved in any planning that is taking place for your child’s education.
Focus on Strengths and Capacities
All children have strengths and capacities. These are the positive qualities that are often recognized by others. Sometimes, however, people (including people with disabilities) get to be known by the things that are wrong with them. When this happens, children are often seen to have very little potential.
Focusing on your child’s strengths, gifts and interests will be an important part of trying to plan for the day to day inclusion of your child in regular classrooms and other school activities. As parents, you will likely be able to identify many of your child’s strengths and gifts. Sometimes, though, other people are able to see things in your child that you may not. Ask others who know your child well to help you identify things that make your child a unique and interesting person.
Special Education Programs and Plans
If your child is considered to be an “exceptional pupil” he or she will need to have a special education program. This program includes a plan which has specific objectives and recommendations for services and support to help meet the needs of your child. This may mean a child requires some changes to the regular school programs and curriculum or some kind of supports or services or both.
A Special Education Plan (SEP) will vary depending on the circumstances on each child. Some plans will talk about the kind of “accommodations” a child may need to succeed in school. Other plan will be more comprehensive and talk about extensive changes or modifications to the regular school program and curriculum as well as a need for on-going support.
By law, the school district must consult with the parents of a child when decisions are being made to determine if a child is “exceptional” and during the process of developing a SEP. This means that you have a direct say in any decisions being made about your child’s SEP.
Planning should take place every school year prior to the beginning of the school year (sometimes it does not happen until the school year has begun). The development of a SEP usually involves parents, regular classroom teachers responsible for your child, a resource and methods teacher and sometimes other professionals. Students should also be involved, although this may depend on the child’s age and abilities to make decisions for him or herself.
A SEP can be a very important way to plan for your child’s inclusion within regular classes and other school activities. The SEP can set the tone for the expectations for your child throughout the year. While goals and needs for support should be identified, planning sessions should also consider your child’s strengths and the ways that your child can be better included within the activities of the regular classes and school. A SEP will only be as good as the commitment of the people involved to make sure that the plan becomes implemented. As parents, it will be important for you to regularly find out if the plans are being put into place and if your child is achieving the objectives that you have set out.
Preparing for Planning Meetings
If you have already thought carefully about what you want your child to achieve from school, and about your child’s dreams, capacities, and interests you have done a lot of preparation for a SEP meeting. All of your ideas should be written down. It may also be important for you to get to know other key people. This may include the school principal and the teacher who will be responsible for your child. Ask for information about the subjects that are taught at your child’s grade level. Ask also for the daily schedules of other students your child’s age.
You will find it very helpful if you are well organized before a meeting. Prepare an outline of the things you wish to say. Have your goals clearly written down so you can refer to them during the meeting.
Many parents find it helpful if someone attends the meeting with them. This may be another family member, parent, or representative from an advocacy organization. If you have difficulties speaking during meetings, another person may be able to speak on your behalf. He or she can help to take notes of the meeting so that you can review what was said afterward.
Using the SEP as a Basis for Inclusion and a Quality Education
Going into a SEP meeting, you should have three main objectives:
- To clearly identify what you want your child to learn during the school year (for example, specific lessons or skills). This should be fairly consistent with the goals that you have already set for your child.
- To identify ways in which your child can be included in the activities of the classroom as well as other school activities.
- To identify the kind of support your child will need to learn and to participate and how that support will be provided.
Begin planning meetings by stating or re-stating your vision for your child (or better still, have your child talk about his or her own dreams, particularly if he or she is a teenager). Make your goals and your child’s strengths and interests the focus of the meetings.
An important part of the SEP will be to decide how your child’s goals and strengths will be met within the overall objectives of the regular classes in which he or she will participate. For example, if one of the goals for your child is to improve communication skills, how will those skills be worked on during regular class times? What different ways of teaching will be needed to ensure that everything can happen in the regular classroom?
The SEP should also address the goals you have set for your child to develop friendships and relationships with other children. This will include ways in which your child can participate in activities such as field trips, school fundraisers and other events. It may also involve identifying other children who can be role models for your child so he or she can learn social skills or develop good language skills.
The plan that comes out of the SEP meeting should include clear expectations for your child. This will give you something valuable to use when you want to measure whether the goals you have set are being achieved.
Suggestions for Parents Attending SEP Meetings
- Expect to be a full and equal partner in the planning process.
- Tell the other people at the meeting your dreams for your child.
- Have an outline of what you want to get out of the meeting.
- Keep in mind the strengths and needs of your child.
- Refer frequently to the short and long term goals you have prepared.
- Be aware of any situation that you would like to change and raise it during the meeting.
- Be courteous and positive.
- Listen carefully.
- State your case simply and directly.
- Be assertive without being aggressive.
- If someone disagrees with your plan for your child, be persistent and provide them with any additional information you may have.
- Ask questions when you need to.
- Take notes or bring someone with you to assist you. If you become too emotional or feel that the meeting is breaking down, reserve the right to postpone the meeting until another time.
- Summarize the meeting from your perspective and ask for feedback.
- Know the follow up steps and when the next meeting will be held.