Special education inclusion can be successful when you follow these tips:
1. Be sure your child’s IEP describes what he needs, who will provide it, and how his progress will be evaluated. The goals should cover a variety of areas, such as social skills, and daily living skills, in addition to educational goals. Your child’s success in mainstreaming is dependent on more than whether he can read or write. In fact, it is possible for a child to be doing well educationally but fail at mainstreaming because of social adjustment problems, or through poor hygiene or grooming issues.
The goals need to be solution focused: they should state what your child needs to do, not what he is doing wrong. They also need to be broken down into small steps, so that your child will be able to accomplish them.
Do not allow a goal that says, “Cassandra will stop fighting with other children in the classroom.” When does she fight? How often? What should she do instead of fighting? How much of her day do you expect to be free of fighting? Is that a reasonable expectation? What consequences (positive or negative) will take place when she fights, or when she chooses to find another solution to the problem?
Be sure it is very clear who will work with your child to achieve the goal. Be very specific; writing “a staff member” can lead to the “everyone was supposed to do it, so no one did it” problem. The goal should say “main teacher, recess monitor, etc.” Ideally it would be even better to have the names of those responsible written into the goal.
Make sure there is some sort of system set up for making sure the goal will be worked on. When will the aide practice role-playing with your child? For how long? And even more importantly, how will she know when your child has accomplished the goal? Again, being specific is the key. Usually a goal is accomplished when a child can perform a particular action 80-90% of the time. Some things might require 100% compliance, like physical aggression towards other students.
Usually you shouldn’t go lower than 80% in terms of accomplishment. Anything less than that is either frustrating for the staff and child to work on, or doesn’t really need to be worked on right now. If you think your child will not be able to make it that far after 3-6 months, then you need to rework the goal to one that she will be able to accomplish.
2 Make sure the IEP contains information about what has helped your child succeed in the past. This can be based on what you have seen work at home, or on what other teachers have found is helpful in past years. If you know a teacher who was particularly successful with your child, ask them to write a few paragraphs about what they did with your child. Ask if they will allow other teachers to consult with them. Bring it with you to the IEP meeting; this way anyone who works with your child will also have access to this valuable information.
Again, always be specific. If your child has crying spells and responds well to comforting, write exactly how she needs to be comforted, and about how long she needs to be comforted. It may seem unnecessary, but it isn’t. Different people have different ways of doing things, and what you thought was obvious may be completely foreign to someone else.
3. Make sure to maintain regular contact with the people that work with your child. This means teachers, teacher’s aides, therapists, pull-out specialists, etc. This doesn’t mean that you need to be in contact with the speech therapist as often as you need to speak to your daughter’s teacher. Nor does it mean you need to speak with your child’s teacher every other day.
In the beginning of the year you will need to give the teacher about two or three weeks to get everyone settled and to get to know your child. After this it’s a good idea to maintain weekly written contact, through a notebook or e-mail. You should also speak personally to the teacher at least once a month; twice a month if there are more critical issues going on. It’s sometimes disconcerting and a little scary, but it has to be doen, since you need to hear how the teacher feels about your child. Does she talk about him with a warm, caring tone? Or is she dismissive? Sometimes this only comes out in a one-on one conversation.
Monthly contact with other specialists is most likely enough. During these phone calls, your goal is not only to find out how your child is doing-again refer to specific goals-but also to share information that you’ve gleaned from your talks to other professionals. This helps everyone work together.
If you have a case manager that does this for you, that’s great. You will still need to be in contact with the teacher, but you can leave the other professionals to the case manager, who you will contact on a monthly basis for updates.
4. Remember that your child’s teacher is your ally. It’s not easy nowadays being a teacher. Teachers nowadays are faced with large classes, and are dealing with children with all types of issues, many of which they may have received little or no training in.
Whenever an issue comes up with your child, always try and see it from their point of view. This doesn’t mean you have to excuse unacceptable behavior, but it does mean you approach the situation determined to find a solution, without blaming and judgment calls. Show your appreciation by showing up at the school (your child will probably object to bringing it) once or twice with a delicious desert, accompanied by a short note of appreciation for all the work she does. It’s also nice to give a teacher- appropriate gift at the end of the year, with a note of thanks. Visit a teacher supply store for ideas.
5. Be supportive, not overbearing, to your child. Sometimes parents are so worried that their child will be successful at school that they micromanage their child. When their son or daughter gets home, they may pepper the child with questions about his day in an attempt to gauge how things are going. If something goes wrong, they may overreact, or give advice, or try too hard to smooth things over.
If you have good channels of communication set up with the school, you won’t need to rely on your child to find out how things are going. If something does go wrong, and your child is at fault, then you will need to address the situation. If the teacher is at fault, be careful not to rant and rave about the teacher in front of your child.
First of all, you probably don’t have all the details of what happened. Second of all, even if you despise the teacher, if your child sees or hears you badmouthing the teacher, she will very likely do the same, which will only cause more problems.
The most important thing to remember is that your child is more than the sum of her deficiencies. She is a special person; not because of her disabilities, but because she has something special to give to those around her.