Understanding the Special Education Process

Whether you choose private or public education you need to be assured that your child is receiving maximum support in school. Often procedures and programs are overwhelming. In order to make informed decisions, it is important to understand the special education process and to know your rights. Although schools differ slightly when identifying children who qualify for special education services the process is fairly consistent between states. If your child is experiencing difficulties in any area of learning, your involvement benefits your child in many ways. The better informed you are as a parent the more effective the interventions become. The types of concerns addressed may include academics, behavior, social/emotional, and health issues. You may be the first to express a concern, or the school might notify you. Before your child can be identified as having special education needs, however, schools must follow certain guidelines. Pre-referral is an important part of the special education process.

Pre-referral helps to make certain that your child is provided with appropriate modifications and accommodations before being referred for special education testing. These strategies may include, but are not limited to, physical placement in the classroom, presentation and modification of materials, as well as individualized behavior plans. Often the modifications and strategies that are recommended provide your child with enough support that academic performance is improved and special education services are not required.

Different states refer to the child study team by different names. In some states the team is a function of general education, in others, the team is a part of the special education program. In any case, it is a school site committee whose primary function is to ensure that each child receives the most appropriate classroom support. The meetings are usually held in your child’s classroom or in an office at the school site, before or after school, allowing your child’s teacher to participate. By providing early identification and intervention for students who are experiencing difficulty in school, the child study team serves as a problem solving forum. The team works together in order to determine your child’s strengths and areas of difficulty. Your participation is very important. This is your opportunity to ask questions and provide critical information about your child. Members of the team will brainstorm in order to develop strategies and an action plan. Later the members will monitor, assess, and discuss the effectiveness of the implementation of the plan that was developed by the team. You have the right to ask questions and call additional meetings, if necessary. Team meeting notes will be taken and copies should be distributed to all members of the team. This documentation demonstrates that the school is providing your child with the legally required general education interventions. Team members vary depending on numerous factors. Often the general education teacher will be involved, as will a counselor, school psychologist, and/or an administrator. Teams may also include special education and related service providers. As the parent, you are an integral part of the team. While the school has the responsibility to invite you at a convenient time it is not absolutely required that you attend. It is however highly recommended as you have a wealth of information regarding your child’s preferred learning styles, health and educational history, behavior, personality traits, areas of difficulty, and strengths.

Typically a meeting is scheduled when there is a concern regarding behavior or academic performance. Anyone who works with a child may make this referral, frequently in written form. Often it is the classroom teacher who requests the meeting. As a parent you also have the right to request a meeting by contacting your child’s teacher or the school principal. Each team member may provide information and make suggestions. The team begins by discussing your child’s strengths and interests, information is shared, and specific concerns will be addressed. The team will review interventions that have already been implemented and how successful they have been. The team will then brainstorm possible additional interventions and will determine which strategies will be put into action. Team members will then be assigned tasks that they will help implement or research. A time-line will be determined by the team. There will be a follow up meeting in order to assess the successfulness of the strategies. The team may determine that sufficient progress has been noted and that testing for special education is not needed at this time. It may be determined that the team will reconvene in order to implement new strategies and monitor progress. If insufficient progress has been noted, a referral for special education assessment may be recommended in order to evaluate whether or not your child may have some type of learning disability.

The pre-referral process is one step in the special education process. It provides an excellent opportunity for you to collaborate with a team in order to insure that your child receive the most effective instruction designed to meet his or her unique needs. The process is most successful when it identifies and utilizes all available resources in order to appropriately support your child.

The administrator or designee supports the team by presenting the agenda, directing the meeting, answering questions, providing information, and offering support to you and other team members. The general education teacher provides up to date information regarding your child. They will listen to information, help to clarify concerns, and participate in the development of behavioral and academic interventions.

As the parent, you are a vital member of the team. Your presence at the meeting is invaluable as you will be asked to provide information pertaining to your child. These areas may include academic history, health and development, family matters, and social/emotional concerns. The information that you provide is confidential.

Having your child attend depends on the appropriateness and relevance to the meeting. Your child may share his/her own perspective regarding areas of difficulty and specific needs.

Special Education (SPED) support staff members may participate in both pre-referral and IEP meetings. During the pre-referral meetings, SPED and support staff members often participate due to their training and experience. Team members may include a school counselor, psychologist, nurse, speech pathologist, occupational and/or physical therapist, adapted physical education teacher, behavior specialists, and members from outside agencies. The team members may differ depending on the school but are available to provide information, answer questions, and gather resources that are designed to support your child. The gathering of information may include obtaining and reviewing records, consultations with you or staff members who work with your child, other teachers, and outside agencies. They may also observe your child in the classroom or outside on the playground. School support staff members make recommendations regarding strategies for designing and implementing interventions and modifications. SPED team members may also share information about eligibility, referrals, and documentation.

While the special education process differs from state to state, the procedures are designed to help you and your child receive the maximum benefit from the educational system. Please check with your school and district to find out more about the specific procedures followed in your state and remember that you are your child’s best advocate.

An Inside Look at the Special Education Profession

Special education professionals work to promote students’ overall behavioral, social and academic growth. Special education professionals aide students in developing socially appropriate behavior within their family, school and community. Teachers of special education help students become more confident in their social interactions. Special education professionals administer activities that build students’ life skills.

What Does the Job Entail?

Are you interested in helping others? Can you handle and care for people who learn differently and have other behavioral problems? Do you want to make a difference in a young child’s life? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you might consider a career in special education. Below is a breakdown of the short and long-term responsibilities of a special education teacher.

First and foremost, special education teachers focus on the development and academic needs of children with disabilities. They encourage learning in disabled students by implementing educational modules and behavioral techniques. Special education teachers work alone or with general education teachers to individualize lessons, develop problem-solving techniques and integrate children into group projects with other students. Furthermore, special education teachers are responsible for ensuring that the needs of disabled children are met during assessment periods.

Did you know that special education teachers work with a team of professionals, qualified staff and family in order to fulfill their job requirements? It is true. In fact, special education teachers work in conjunction with these entities to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student. An IEP is designed in collaboration with a child’s parents, school principal, social worker, speech pathologist and general education teacher to ensure effective implementation. An IEP targets a student’s needs and growth areas for maximum response. The specialized goals set by the IEP are woven throughout all aspects of a child’s daily activities. Teachers of special education must monitor a child’s setbacks and progress and report back to parents and administrators. Planned goals and tasks are outlined for family members to refer to while a student is at home as well.

The types of disabilities a special education teacher might encounter are difficult to predict. For one, the qualifications for special education services vary greatly from mild disabilities to extreme cases of mental retardation or autism. Types of disabilities include, but are not limited to, the following: speech impairments, hearing disabilities, emotional disturbances, orthopedic impairments, brain trauma cases, blindness, deafness and learning disabilities.

Do You Exhibit These Qualities?

Now that you have an idea of the job’s demands, let’s see if you have the right qualities to be a special education teacher.

Recognize the symptoms and needs of special needs students

Patience

Ability to work with one or more parties to achieve short-term and long-term goals

Strong communication skills

Ability to motivate others

Ability to multi-task

Knowledge of the most recent education modules, medical research and behavioral practices

Creativity
Knowledge of the latest medical technology relevant to special education

Taking the Next Step toward a New Career

Once you have decided to enter the field of special education, you will need to follow several steps. Due to the specialization of the field, special education teachers in all 50 states must receive licensure before employment. Licensures are approved by each state’s board of education, and the requirements for certification differ between states. Nevertheless, the growing shortage of special education teachers has led institutions of higher education to offer more special education degree and certification programs. In fact, special education degrees are offered at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels throughout the nation. Not to mention, the booming field of distance learning has made certification more accessible from any location in the United States.

In many cases, hopeful special education professionals do not meet the requirements of special education licensure due to their prior completion of degree programs outside of the field of education. Therefore, several states have begun to offer alternate forms of certification. The hope of these programs is to attract new special education professionals and fill the growing need for teachers. The chance to positively impact the lives of special needs children is one of the driving motivations and benefits of entering this field.

After several years, some special education teachers look for new opportunities within their field. In the most common situations, special education professionals transfer to administrative or supervisory positions. Others, after receiving a higher degree, become college professors and educate new students in the field of special education. Experienced teachers of special needs students have also moved up to serve as mentors to incoming special education teachers.

As for the future of special education and employment, there are many changes on the horizon. Most significantly, the job market in special education, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is projected to “increase faster than the average of all occupations by 2014.” Due to the new emphasis on education and training in legislature, special education professionals will become even more valued.

Can I Make a Living as a Special Education Teacher?

As mentioned previously, the special education job market is on the rise. In 2004, the BLS reported 441,000 employed special education teachers in the nation. While only 6 percent worked within private schools, over 90 percent were employed by public schools or districts. In rare cases, special education professionals were involved in home or hospital care.

Learning in a Special Education Environment

Any child that has a need for guided education whether it is because of a mental or physical disability deserves to have the same chance in life and school as other children. Sometimes when a parent knows their child needs regulated special guidance on education, they don’t want their child to be singled out. They don’t want to have to have special arrangements. They want their child to be given attention without losing the same equality as other students.

Learning in a regulated special guidance on education is often required. It is design though not to restrict the children, but give them all the opportunity to succeed. Parents can rest assured that often it is the law that all children will have the best opportunities to succeed in education even if special education is needed. Sometimes students needing education need a complete special education curriculum while others just need various elements with education.

The student might have learning disabilities and needs extra attention to help them understand the lessons, to stay up with other students. Other students could be emotionally challenged and need special attention to help them accomplish goals. Then there are various physical disabilities that can cause the student to need more extensive assistance for their special education curriculum.

Often the definition of those being eligible for specialized education is provided by the state as well as the federal government. Depending on the disability there are various services available. Parents are asked to keep in mind that education environments are set up to benefit the child with a disability and provide them with more of an advantage than they would have otherwise got.

A specialized education environment is set up to benefit the classmates. It might be that is it more wheelchairs accessible to having equipment to help students with certain issues along with a teacher trained to help with these issues. Having specialized training will best benefit the child as an individual compared to a teacher in the traditional classroom with 19 other students that don’t have a disability or a class room with a few others that need special attention as well.

There is often an Individualized Education Plan put in place for the student. This allows the student to get assistance and education that is geared toward their needs in a way that will best benefit them. Talk with the school administrators, teachers and your child’s teacher to help design the best options for your child.

You may require talking to the child’s physician about the best specialized education program that would assist in improving the child’s development. Additionally, hiring the services of a special educator at home while the child goes to regular school is also a possibility to explore when you are looking for a cohesive environment for the child’s development.

You may explore for more information online as there are numerous websites dealing with special educators, pioneers in the friend of education that impart information about parenting and education.