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Sunday, 11 January 2015

10 Steps for Promoting School Success in Children with Special Needs

Children with special academic and behavioral needs often experience difficulties in school, which may arise in academic learning, getting along with other students, or emotional well-being and confidence.  While these difficulties can be extremely frustrating for child, parent, and teacher alike, they need not dictate a child's ultimate success in school.  There are many ways children, parents, and teachers can work together to ensure that students with special needs enjoy the same positive school experiences to which all kids are entitled.  This article outlines 10 important steps to consider and follow for families with students with special needs.

Promoting School Success in Children

Step 1: Create a Collaborative Relationship

Many parents of children with special academic or behavioral needs encounter barriers to securing the school-based services that are so important for their children to excel in school.  These barriers include poor communication between parent and school, the lack of a plan to appropriately address a child's needs, or a lack of knowledge about the tools and services available to help a child with special needs.  Likewise, teachers and school staff often grow frustrated when working with special needs students, oftentimes due to a poor understanding of a child's difficulties, a lack of parental involvement, or limited resources available to help children with special needs.  All of these barriers and frustrations can be attenuated with open, two-way communication between parents and teachers.  It is essential that, as a parent, you work together with your child's teacher to tackle your child's difficulties and develop an effective plan to be implemented both at home and at school. 

Step 2: Research Your Options

Some schools are better equipped to deal with special needs students than others, and it is critical to make informed decisions when selecting a school for a child.  Consider different school types, curriculums, behavioral management strategies, school cultures, and informal school-based services.  Also, take time to learn about the various laws that impact children with special needs (including the Eligibility Law and the Entitlement Law) so that you can advocate for your child from an informed and empowered position.  Finally, explore the resources offered by the New York City Department of Education (or similar Departments in other cities or states). 

Step 3: Understand the Nature of Your Child's Difficulties

Parents who expect teachers and school staff to respond appropriately to their child's needs must understand those needs themselves.  As a parent, you must be able to clearly describe the nature of your child's disabilities and his/her strengths and weaknesses, as well as how your child's disabilities impact his/her academic, behavioral, and social/emotional functioning.  

Step 4: Prepare for School Meetings

School meetings are an excellent opportunity to touch base with your child's teachers and make sure everyone is on the same page.  Before the meeting, clearly articulate what you hope to get out of the meeting, identify who will attend and why, and prioritize items to discuss by level of importance.  During the meeting, listen closely to the teacher's perceptions of and concerns for your child.  Take notes and ask questions to clarify things you do not understand.  Work with the teacher to correct parts of your child's educational plan that are not working.

Step 5: Identify Specific Concerns

Identify the ABCs of problem behaviors to help identify specific concerns you have for your child.  Every behavior begins with an Antecedent, the specific characteristic of a task or situation that sets the stage for difficulties for your child.  Antecedents are followed by the problem Behavior itself, which is in turn followed by a negative Consequence.  Think about the functions your child's behaviors serve, and how he/she can satisfy those functions in healthier, more productive ways.

Step 6: Identify an Effective Plan:

In order to best address your child's problematic behaviors or skills, it is important to target those areas with specific strategies and accommodations.  Teach your child replacement behaviors that will serve the same function as the problem behavior.  Create a plan that systematically outlines each of the target areas and how you will approach them, including when and where the plan will be used, who will be responsible for implementing it, and what the specific targets are and why.

Step 7: Monitor the Plan Regularly

Once you have created a specific written plan to help your child shape positive behaviors, continually monitor progress and make adjustments as needed.  Make sure every family member, teacher, and school staff involved in its implementation has a physical copy of the plan.  Specify the method and frequency of communication between yourself and the teacher and identify how you will together determine if the plan is working.  One helpful tool for monitoring progress is Daily Report Cards, which usually include 2 or 3 specific targets your child is working on, and can be reinforced at home and at school.

Step 8: Troubleshoot the Plan

If you or your child's teacher identifies problem areas in the plan, problem solve as soon as possible to come up with better strategies.  Plans fail for many reasons including unclearly defined goals, attempting to address too many goals at once, addressing the wrong issue(s), failing to address one or more issues, failure to implement the plan according to its design, and failure to review and modify the plan as needed.  It is easy to address deficits once they are identified, so it is important to continually monitor the plan and watch for problem areas.

Step 9: Increase Continuity of Care

Many individuals are involved in implementing an educational plan, so it is important to identify a leader or coordinator.  Doing so will help ensure continuity and reinforcement of skills across settings and providers. 

Step 10: Seek Professional Help

Educational plans work for many families, but some children continue to have difficulties even once a plan is in place.  Though it may seem that your child will never overcome his/her difficulties, the problem is oftentimes in the specific plan set up for him/her, and this can be adjusted and modified with the help of a professional to better fit your child.  The Child Study Center has many dedicated professionals who can help with educational issues, so do not hesitate to reach out if you have concerns about your child's academic or behavioral progress.

Source: About Our Kids 

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