10 How Can I Help my Child Succeed in School?
So Your Child has a Hearing Loss: Next Steps for Parents
Master the Special Education Maze
Every child with a disability enrolled in the public school system is guaranteed a free, appropriate education under a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Federal law stipulates that the education be individually tailored to the child's needs. Unlike regular education where "one curriculum fits all", IDEA specifies that special education must be individually tailored to your child's needs. The law also stipulates that the student should be placed in the "least restrictive environment." The meaning of "least restrictive environment" has been a source of debate and controversy since IDEA was passed. To some it simply means an environment where a child is most likely to thrive, but to others it denotes an environment most similar to the regular classroom and regular curriculum. Either definition may be applicable. For example, students who are able to compete in a regular classroom (usually with support through tutors, speech/language therapy, etc.) may be best prepared to enroll in higher education or compete in mainstream society. On the other hand, a child who attends a small private
school for hearing-impaired children (i.e., a restricted environment) may blossom with the individual attention and support.
In theory, children's special education services are supposed to be tailored to their needs. In practice, children are apt to receive a generic set of services based on their disability, rather than on their individual strengths and weaknesses. As a result, parents must be aggressive in requesting accommodation for their child(ren). Unfortunately, schools have been known to discourage the use of technology or other supports that would help a student with hearing loss due to their financial cost. However, unlike general education, special education allows parents to have some say in their child's educational programming and supplementary services. You can help your child receive appropriate educational services, if you know what to ask for. Before you can influence your child's educational program, however, you must master the special education maze, and learn to play under the special education rules. For example, you may request a particular service for your child, and the school may agree on it; however, if it does not appear in writing in your child's special education plan, your request may not be legally binding.
The foundation of your child's education is the Individualized Education Plan, known as the IEP. An IEP is a legal, written plan that specifies special education and related services necessary to meet the individualized needs of a student with a disability. You must become familiar with the IEP process, and the way an IEP plan is written. You can influence your child's education through your participation in this process.
Either the school or the student's parent(s)/guardian(s) may request an IEP meeting. The meeting occurs at a mutually convenient time and place. Those attending will share the results of your child's evaluation and discuss its findings. Parent(s)/guardian(s) will have an opportunity to ask questions.
The Report of the Commission on the Education of the Deaf provides that an IEP for a child who is deaf or hard of hearing should consider the following:
- the student's communication needs;
- the family's preferred mode of communication;
- the student's linguistic needs;
- the severity of the student's hearing loss and his or her potential for using residual hearing;
- the student's academic level; and
- the student's social, emotional, and cultural needs.
The IEP must include plans for behavioral intervention and discipline as well as a statement of the supplementary aids and services needed in regular education classes. The IEP becomes effective as soon as possible following the meeting. Reviews of the IEP must be conducted at least on an annual basis but you will likely want more frequent reviews if it appears that your child's needs
are not being met. As a parent, you are not required to sign the IEP. You have the right to refuse services if you determine them to be inappropriate. The school district can then go to a hearing, or you as a parent can request a hearing.
For more information about the IDEA, contact AG Bell and request a free copy of our brochure titled A Great IDEA:
I.D.E.A., the I.E.P. Process and Your Child.
Some Things You Never Want to See in an IEP:
- Progress made on the current IEP is not documented.
- No information is given about the student's level of performance.
- Too many goals are listed (four or five are usually enough).
- Objectives are vague and unmeasurable.
- The same goals are repeated year after year.
- Amounts and types of services needed, such as speech-language therapy, are not specified.
- Goals are unrelated to curriculum or to activities.
- Placement is determined before needs are established.
- A regular classroom is not considered as an option.
- Goals are written for school staff rather than for the student.
A poorly written IEP can lead to vague programming and lack of
accountability. (Source: COPE, 300 I St. N.E. Washington, DC 20002.)
© 2011 by Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing