The Special Needs Student: Looking at It From Both Sides

By: Carol S. Weinman, Esq., C.A.S., Autism Legal Expert and International Speaker

For parents or guardians of a child with special needs, the thought of how their child is faring at school is never far from their mind. This time of year is always of concern and often very anxiety producing.  Tweaking the IEP is often the focus of those concerns. What needs adding? What needs changing? What needs improving? What isn’t working? And, how do I go about getting the IEP revised? Most parents or guardians feel scattered and scramble for time to be sure it is all in place from day one of the new school term.

Let’s now consider how it looks from the school’s perspective. They may well be thinking, “What will we be hit with now? What will the parents tell us about what we are not doing or not doing well?  How can we prevent another student meltdown? Which teacher is best to handle this particular student? Does this student need additional support, a one-on-one aide, more pull out classes, or a behavior plan?”

The greatest lesson I have learned from years in my law practice is that the best approach is cooperation and collaboration. What I always tell parents who come to me for educational assistance with their child, is this:  “I do not go into the school with my guns blazing.” I don’t believe creating an atmosphere in which the recipient feels attacked accomplishes anything good. It only creates defensiveness and puts the school on the offensive.

Whether the parent will be able to really hear this depends, of course, on where parents are in the process. Most parents whom I meet with are feeling overwhelmed, cheated, angry, frustrated, impatient and sometimes hopeless. Many have already been given what they consider the runaround. So, they are often not receptive about approaching the educational demands of their special needs child with openness and flexibility.

I believe that the root of the problem between the parents and the school is often a misunderstanding rather than a deliberate withholding of necessary services or accommodations. Sometimes, school personnel need educating themselves! Instead, parents may assume a school should know exactly what the student needs and that is not always the case. Sometimes, too much onus is placed on the school to provide what the parent requests without creating a better understanding first of what is needed and why. This is especially true because each child is different and may have needs unique to that particular student.

All in all, my experience in the legal arena of special education is that more is accomplished when we can approach it from an “us” perspective rather than a “you versus me” and all attempt to be on the same team. At the very least, that’s where we should start.

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