Helping Children Thrive Through Classroom Adversity

Contributed by: Laura Walker, staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions

There are many non-academic reasons children fail to thrive in school. For example, a child suffering from ADHD may have difficulty completing a required reading assignment for class. A child with autism may not be able to retain a class lecture because he is a visual learner. A child who is constantly sent out of class for being disruptive may suffer from behavioral health challenges. A child with classroom anxiety may have trouble completing a timed test. Today, 1 in 5 children experience a behavioral health disorder. While the challenges these children face may not be as easily seen as a physical disability, their difficulties in the classroom are no less real.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was developed to provide services and accommodations to students who struggle in the general education curriculum as a result of disability. These disabilities include: autism, deafness, deaf-blindness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment (including ADHD), specific learning disability, speech/language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment. While strong parent and teacher involvement is crucial in a child’s academic success, sometimes more is needed to unlock his full potential.

“It’s important that parents know special education is not a ‘place’ but a set of specialized services necessary for some children to succeed academically,” said Maureen Long, CARES School principal for Canopy Children’s Solutions.

“These services can include tutoring, special access to notes or materials, reading coaches, etc., and can often help keep a child in mainstream classes. Qualifying for these services can be a lengthy process, but parents are the greatest advocates for their children and should not let obstacles stop them from fighting for their needs. It’s much easier to help a child at the first sign of trouble than after many years of struggling.”

Begin by talking to your child and to his or her teacher or guidance counselor if you feel something is amiss. Trying to understand exactly why your child is having trouble at school will help you determine your next step. Inquiring about your school’s special education services can also help you decide if working toward IDEA eligibility is most appropriate for your child. Keep in mind that while a child may have an outside diagnosis that falls under the IDEA disabilities, there must be evidence that the disability is hindering the child’s ability to participate in the general education curriculum without special assistance.

If you feel special accommodations are needed, request a Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET) meeting with your child’s school. This request should be made in writing, dated and signed. The team will discuss with you whether your child’s difficulties qualify him for a special education evaluation. Depending on your child’s needs, they may recommend other behavioral or academic interventions before moving forward with an evaluation. It is helpful if you can provide copies of your child’s records including classwork, report cards, school interventions, disciplinary records, and medical records to be reviewed during the meeting. If a qualifying disability is suspected, the district’s psychometrist will perform a formal evaluation.

If your child’s evaluation qualifies him for special education services, you and the MET will work together to develop his Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This plan details your child’s educational goals, disabilities and the services and accommodations the school will provide to help your child succeed. If your child does not qualify, other services may be requested such as Section 504 Accommodations or placement into the Three Tier Instructional Model. More information on disabilities accommodations can be found at IDEA.ed.gov or mde.k12.ms.us.

Knowing your rights under IDEA is an important tool in advocating for your child. While the journey may not always be easy, the results of seeing your child thrive in his educational environment will be well worth the struggles. You are your child’s most important advocate.

Canopy Children’s Solutions, formerly known as Mississippi Children’s Home Services, is the state’s most comprehensive provider of behavioral health, education and social service solutions. Its network includes three fully-accredited non-public, special purpose schools located in Jackson, Hattiesburg, and Gulfport that work with children challenged by a variety of IDEA disabilities. For more information about Canopy, visit their website at mycanopy.org or call 800-388-6247.  

View the original story in the December 2016 edition of Parents & Kids Magazine.