My Child Has Special Needs – What Do I Need To Know?

What is Special Education?

Not every child learns in the same way. Schools have different programs to meet the needs of different students. One of these programs is Special Education (also known as SpEd).

According to the law, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is required to offer free, special services to students ages 3-21 with designated disabilities. Special services are usually divided into two different types of learning environments, depending on the individual student’s needs.

  1. The first learning environment includes the student in general education classrooms with available special services.
  2. The second places the child in “self-contained” classrooms, which are separate rooms reserved only for the education of students with special needs.

Some students remain in self-contained classrooms full-time, while others split their time between both types of classes.

How Do I Enroll My Child in Special Education?

What are my Rights as a Parent of a Child with Special Needs?

You have several rights throughout the process of your child’s special needs education. Going through the evaluation and ARD process can be difficult, and it is important to remember that you are the voice for your child.

  1. There are specific time requirements your school district must follow throughout the ARD process. 
    • Once you have submitted a written request for an evaluation, your child’s school district must respond to you in 15 school days with its intent to conduct an evaluation or a written notice of their refusal.
    •  The evaluation must be completed within 45 school days of your initial request.
    • The district is required to notify you at least 5 school days in advance of any ARD meeting, so you can make arrangements to attend the meeting.
  2. You have the right to disagree with an IEP created during your child’s ARD meeting. 

    • If you disagree, you have up to 10 school days to consider the plan and meet with the ARD committee for a second time.
    • During those 10 school days, the ARD committee must consider alternatives to the IEP.
  3. Certain people must be involved in your child’s ARD meeting and the development of his or her IEP. 

    • At ARD meetings, the following people should be present:
      • At least one of your child’s teachers
      •  A representative from the school district
      •  Someone who can understand the way your child learns best as a result of his/her evaluation results
      • Other people who have special knowledge about your child
      • A representative of the agency that will likely pay for services when your child is ready to graduate from school,
      • A career or technical education representative
      • Your child, if appropriate
  4. If English is not your primary language, the school district is required to provide you with a written or video copy of your child’s IEP in your preferred language.

    • You can also request an interpreter to be present at the ARD meeting.

How Can I Be Sure My Child’s Needs Are Being Met?

At School:

  • Ensure that the Special Education Department at your child’s school is meeting with you at least once a year to monitor and update your child’s IEP.
  • Meet with your child’s teachers to help them understand how they can support your child’s needs and maintain regular contact with them.
  • Review your child’s assignments to make sure that they are modified or accommodated based on his/her IEP (your child’s teacher can make changes to general assignments to help your child understand the material).
  • Monitor your child’s progress with his/her IEP goals.
  • Check your child’s grades in his/her classes weekly – most schools have an online parent portal where you can do this.

At Home:

  • Help build confidence in your child by focusing on his or her strengths, not weaknesses.
  • Communicate high expectations to your child in regards to school work and behavior to help him/her stay on track.
  • Supplement what he/she is learning at school with other activities and learning opportunities.
  • Help your child develop his or her strengths and passions. Feeling passionate and skilled in one area may inspire hard work in other areas too.
  • Work with your child to help him/her get comfortable asking for help. For example, this can be asking for a seat in front of the classroom if that helps him/her focus better.
  • Discuss what it means to keep going even when things aren’t easy. Talk about the rewards of hard work, as well as the opportunities missed by giving up.

What Happens When My Child is Ready to Transition Out of School?

Your child’s transition plan is a section of his/her IEP that will explain what will happen when your special needs child is ready to transition from high school to life as a young adult. This stage is critical for all teenagers but requires additional planning for a child with special needs.

Your child’s transition planning should begin when the child reaches the age of 14 and is to be created, in part, with the Texas Education Agency. The plan should include things such as your role as a parent during your child’s transition, education options for your child after high school, his/her employment goals, and goals for your child to live on his/her own.

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