Are you frustrated and discouraged trying to teach your special needs child during shelter-in -place? Are you having problems getting or using computers, printers and internet services to help your child? How are you providing services and supports such as speech, behavior therapy and occupational therapy? Do your study sessions with your child with a disability often end in tears (yours or hers)? Help could be as close as her IEP.
Special education laws are supposed to ensure that qualified children with disabilities are afforded specialized education designed to meet their unique and individual needs. These federal and state special education laws require school districts and charter schools to provide “related services” or “designated instruction and services” (sometimes called “DIS”) or “specially designed instruction” (SDI) for children with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs). Related services and DIS/SDI support children with disabilities need in order to benefit from special education. They commonly include things like speech and language services, physical and occupational therapy, psychological/behavioral services, and transportation.
But many parents don’t know that DIS and Related Services can also include parent counseling and training. This legal requirement is especially important now, when many parents are trying to teach their special needs children on their own during the Covid-19 pandemic. To be clear, if your child currently has an IEP, his school district or charter school must provide services pursuant to that most recent, signed IEP, to the greatest extent possible under present emergency conditions.
“But Mrs. Adams, the school district says that they will give me a consultation. Is that the same thing as parent training?” No. Consultation service is not the same as parent training. Consultations are usually limited to a 15 to 20-minute sporadic check-in by a resource teacher or service provider. Parent training is much more involved. It can include on-site parent instruction (which is currently limited), training via videoconference or phone, written manuals with tips or some combination of these. Training can be one time only, or one long training session with follow-up meetings. Like most related services, the time frame, frequency, duration and who will be providing the parent training, depends on what you and your child need in order to work towards his IEP goals and objectives.
“So how can I get my school district to train me?” First, it’s important to act now before the school district or charter school closes for summer break. Send an email or text (yes, it must be in writing) to your child’s teacher or special education case carrier requesting a one-page IEP Addendum. Second, keep your request short and simple. Be very clear as to what you are requesting and why. For example, “I am unable to provide specialized instruction to my child without training in the area of teaching children with dyslexia. Please provide me with the necessary parent training so that I can do so during this time period.” Or, “I am unable to use the computers and software that you provided so that I can teach my child at home. Please provide me with the proper parent training so that we can use this assistive technology.” If you do not receive a response within a few days, follow-up with a second request. Third, be kind but persistent. Remember that teachers and school administrators have families too and may be going through similar struggles. Let them know that you are willing to work with them to obtain this related service. Be flexible and make suggestions. For example, if the school says it does not have the personnel to train you, offer to find an expert on your own as long as they will pay the expert or reimburse you for the training. You may be fine with a small group of parents that are being trained at the same time—that way the school district can preserve their resources. In all cases, make sure that you have all of these agreements in writing, preferably in the IEP Addendum.
Training is a hard fought right that many parents are not using in a time when they need it the most. Moreover, this training can have benefits well into the future as you can use the skills and tips that you learn to help your child even after the pandemic passes.