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Parenting a child with a disability: The school dilemma

If you’re parenting a child with a disability, here are tips for finding support for schooling for your special needs, as well as your “typical” child — from moms who have been there.

My only sister was born with severe cerebral palsy. Growing up, we attended different schools — I went to the neighborhood school, and she would go to another in our community with a better special education program that met her needs.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 5.8 million of the nation’s schoolchildren receive special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Depending on where you live, you may or may not have good options for special education in your community. Many children with a disability may spend the majority of their day in mainstream classrooms — learning among their “typical” peers — while others may have more specialized education on a regular basis. You may need an individualized education plan (IEP) for your child’s particular needs.

Learn how to get an IEP for your child >>

Where to start

Leslie Petruk, M.A., L.P.C., N.C.C., a therapist and mom of a child with special needs and typical children says, “The best way to find a special needs program that will best suit your child is by talking to other parents. For public school programs, you can contact your school district’s Special Education department to find out about the various programs offered in your district. The Internet is a tool that can be used to search for the specific disabilities your child has and for schools in your area. There are many private schools that are geared to serving specific disabilities. Local magazines, particularly local parenting magazines, typically have a yearly publication that lists all of the private schools in the area.”

Find your groove

Be fierce

My mom, Sue Madison, says, “Remember you and no one else are your child’s advocate and the ‘squeaky wheel’ gets the oil. You must, at all times, demand what is right and in bounds for your child. Educate yourself on your child’s disability, what the law provides — and demand it.”

Petruk says, “The logistics of having children at different schools can be challenging. This is something I have dealt with, and each year, I’ve had to make various arrangements to manage getting everyone to and from school at the appropriate times. Many schools have before and after school programs that will allow you to place your child in if the start and end times differ from your other children. If your child with special needs has a caregiver, then arranging for them to take and/or pick up your child from school is an option. Working out a carpool with other parents is also an option for managing the differing schedules.”

More about special needs at school >>

Find support

Madison encourages parents with children who have disability to find support early and often. “Join a support group of parents who have children with the same disability — going with a team is better than going it alone,” she explains. “You will learn from others ahead of you and will be able to give to those coming up behind you.”

More on special needs

Parenting a child with a disability: Welcoming your child to the family
Parenting a child with disability: When your other child isn’t disabled
What parents of special needs kids wish you knew

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