By Debra L. Karplus, MS, OTR/L
Your grandchild’s parents have returned from parent-teacher conferences and report to you that little Taylor will begin receiving special education services. This news immediately puts you into a tailspin of worry, mainly because you’re clueless about what that actually implies. Back when you were in school, kids who were “different” disappeared to some other part of the building or possibly went to a special school.
There have always been children who struggle with school. The good news is that these challenges are now better understood, more easily identified early, and can be resolved or managed with the intervention of professionals who work in your grandchild’s school. (People who graduate with credentials to teach special education are seldom unemployed; that’s because so many students receive special ed services at school!)
The Rehabilitation Act of the 1970s mandated that students with special needs must receive appropriate services at school.
Legislation that evolved after today’s baby boomer grandparents became grownups, required schools to provide special education services at no cost to families. It asks that students be integrated into as many general education classes as possible. Kids often receive special ed services while in their classroom.
The process begins with a referral from a concerned parent, pediatrician or teacher regarding the child having difficulty in one or more areas such as learning, motor skills, or language. Perhaps your grandchild was already receiving Early Intervention services before turning three years old, or in pre-school. These youngsters typically transition into school special ed.
The interdisciplinary team (IDT) includes professionals who help your grandchild succeed in school.
Following a referral, the process begins for each of the school specialists to observe your grandchild in class and then perform an evaluation to determine deficits and strengths. They then outline school-related goals for your grandchild, and an intervention plan for meeting these goals. For example, the occupational therapist (OTR) might identify deficits in the child’s handwriting as a result of some motor-planning issues, or the speech and language pathologist (SLP) may notice that your grandchild has difficulty articulating certain patterns of words. These specialists make recommendations regarding frequency of services. For example, the occupational therapist might work with your third grade grandchild on handwriting skills thirty minutes weekly in the classroom while they are learning cursive writing.
Once the evaluations reports are completed, the interdisciplinary team meets at the school for an IEP Meeting (Individualized Evaluation Program) to determine an overall plan for your grandchild. Members of the team include the parents, school principal, classroom teacher, special education teacher, occupational therapist, speech therapist, and sometimes the school social worker or the school psychologist. These people work together and meet regularly to discuss your grandchild’s progress and to revise intervention goals that are met.
When your grandchild’s goals are met, special education services can be reduced or discontinued.
Though special education services are required to be provided through the completion of secondary school (high school), many students are discontinued from all or some of their special ed programs. Sometimes the process is gradual; for example, the interdisciplinary team may meet and decide the little Taylors’ occupational therapy goals may have been met, but that the OTR should continue monitoring, by providing services with a fifteen minute monthly consult which might include observing your grandchild in class and conferring with the teacher.
Urban or rural, a significant percentage of students from all types of economic backgrounds receive special ed services. The stigma of receiving special education services is long gone. That these services are available to your grandchild to help assure success as an adult is a win-win situation for everyone.
Author biography: Debra Karplus is a licensed occupational therapist, teacher, and freelance writer for national magazines, baby boomer, and grandmother of two. She lives in a Midwestern college town. She has been published in Grand Magazine in the past. Learn more about her at http://debrakarplus.blogspot.com