Back To School: A Look at Special Education in 2014

 September 4, 2014
Posted by M&LAdmin4

September 4th, 2014

Hello everyone! Welcome to back to school week!

Over the last few weeks, as the media and retailers begin their inevitable “back to school” coverage and campaigns, the staff of M&L has had some time to reflect on how this time of year can affect families with special needs. The start of a new school year is always exciting – whether your child is just beginning his/her academic career, or they are entering the final year of high school, it is a time for new beginnings, promise, and optimism. It can, however, also be a time of extreme anxiety. Many of the parents we work with often express worries related to changing structure, the introduction of new teachers, routines, and classmates, as well as the fear that their child has somehow regressed (or not progressed enough) during the summer season.

It certainly doesn’t help that the media coverage of school, in particular special needs education, has not been promising as of late. Take this article published on, as an example – the title reads, “School Districts Stressed by Lack of Trained Professionals.” According to the article, the high demand for the types of professionals trained in the field of special needs, (i.e. speech pathologists, psychologists, and special needs educators), isn’t matched by qualified candidates. As a result they have had to resort to creative hiring practices – i.e. hiring individuals who don’t possess the necessary qualifications, and training them afterwards.

This can, understandably, create stress for parents of children with special needs. We want the best for our children, and that includes the best education. Because our children have unique challenges, we want teachers who are trained specifically to address those challenges and help our children achieve their fullest potential.

If you are a parent who shares all or some of these concerns, please read on! Today we have prepared a post all about special education, chocked full of tips to help your child have the best school year possible.

What is Special Education and Why is it Important?

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, special education is defined as “specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.” In short, it is a style of teaching or educational approach that is specifically designed to help children overcome challenges to ensure that all of the child’s special learning needs are met.

Special Education is incredibly important; in fact, it is crucial to the future success and happiness of children with disabilities. Each child learns differently, whether they have typical learning needs or if he or she is an individual with special needs. In order for a child to reach his or her fullest potential, that child with disabilities may need extra support and services. This can come in the form of additional attention from teaching staff, smaller class sizes, and in some cases one-on-one support that will help the child meet his or her individualized learning goals. It is important to note that general education teachers may not be trained to provide the unique support that children with special needs require to meet their goals. Special education professionals have the training, the background and the experience to create plans and goals for your child that will enhance and improve the education experience and facilitate further success, both academically and beyond.

The IDEA Act

The Individuals with Disabilities’ Education Act (IDEA) is a United States federal law that ensures children with disabilities receive educational services and support. This law also governs how states and public agencies deliver these supports and services. Quite simply, IDEA mandates that children with disabilities receive Free Appropriate Public Education – or, in other words, schools are required to provide students with a disability the specialized supports and or instructions that will address their academic needs in the least restrictive environment possible. The main principle behind IDEA is that every child with a disability deserves the right to the same quality of public education as all other children.

IDEA outlines a number of basic steps that all schools and public agencies must take to ensure that all children receive appropriate educational services. The first series of steps includes finding any and all children who may have disabilities or special learning needs, evaluating and assessing the child, and determining the child’s eligibility under IDEA. In order to find and identify children with disabilities, the states use Child Find activities. Once the child is found, the school administrators contact parents and ask for permission to conduct assessment and evaluation – parents may also contact the school and request these services. Lastly, the child has to be deemed eligible under IDEA, which covers 13 categories of disability.

Once the child is found eligible, the second series of steps begin – within 30 calendar days, school professionals must contact the parents and arrange a meeting to create the IEP, or the Individualized Education Program. (Note: The IEP outlines the educational services your child will receive. It provides a framework for the broader, long-term educational and post school goals for your child.) School staff have a number of obligations to the child and the parents at this stage – they must notify the parents as to the purpose of the meeting, who will attend, and provide parents with the option to invite additional people who have knowledge or special expertise about the child. If parents disagree with the goals outlined in the IEP after it is created, they have the right to request mediation.

Once the IEP is in place, the services as outlined in the program are implemented. Parents are given a copy, and every professional involved with the child (whether service-related or educational) has access to the program, and are aware of their role in ensuring that it is carried out. The school must regularly update the parents as to the progress their child is making under the IEP, and whether the child will meet their annual goals as identified in the program.

The final series of steps include the monitoring and evaluation of the IEP. The IEP must be reviewed annually, but parents can request a review at any time. Under IDEA, a child with a disability can be reevaluated every three years. This process is sometimes called a “triennial”, and is intended to determine if the child continues to have a disability as defined by IDEA, and to update the child’s goals, and determine if the child’s educational needs have changed, are being met, etc.

How Can I Ensure My Child Receives the Education he/she Deserves?

The best possible way to ensure that your child receives an education appropriate to his or her needs is to take charge! Become your child’s biggest – and loudest – advocate. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Learn all there is to know about your rights as a parent, and your child’s right to education – for further information, and to help you with your research, please see the resource section at the bottom of this blog post. It will connect you with resources related to IDEA, IEP, and special education in general. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at M&L ( We are more than happy to help!
  2. Meet with your child’s school administrators and education professionals regularly to ensure that your child is meeting all of his or her goals, and to identify any gaps in services that may need to be addressed. Please note: schools must notify parents of their child’s progress as often as parents of the child’s nondisabled peers are notified, however you can ask for an IEP review/meeting at any time.
  3. Join parent committees and meet with parents of your child’s classmates to ensure that you are in the loop in regards to changes that may be occurring in the school, and to build a community with support networks for all parents.
  4. Review your child’s IEP independently at the beginning and end of each school year (and periodically throughout the year) so that you are familiar with the goals your child is working towards, and can evaluate his/her progress based on their progress at home. IDEA mandates that the school must review and re-evaluate annually, but an independent review can ensure that you are prepared for these meetings, and have your concerns/suggestions/ideas ready for each meeting.
  5. Discuss your child’s IEP, goals, and progress with the other special needs professionals in your child’s life – this can help you to identify and highlight concerns, as well as gauging his or her progress in other areas, i.e. social skills, motor skills, etc.

Would You Like More Information?

Thank you all so much for dropping by today! We hope that the information we have provided is useful to you – if you ever have any questions about your child and their education, please do not hesitate to contact us! We offer a number of life planning services that can help you and your family on your special needs journey. We also offer a wide ranged of financial planning and housing supports, so please check out our Services webpage to learn more.

See you next week!


IDEA – US Department of Education
IDEA – National Center for Learning Disabilities
Individualized Education Program (IEP) US Dept. Education
IEP Examples
History of Special Education in US
National Education Association – Special Education

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