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Tips For Parents Navigating Special Education

Tips For Parents Navigating Special Education

By Jillian E. Gismondi MA LPC NCC

504 Plans, Individualized Education Plan, accommodations, special services- to many people, these words create anxiety, confusion and frustration. Many parents feel as though they are left to decipher what all of these words mean and how they may or may not apply to their child.

Yet- they are not alone in this quest for clarity. While school professionals are leading the process, it should be looked at as a collaboration between parents and school staff. Parents are the expert on their child’s struggles. School staff welcomes anecdotes along with strategies that may or may not work for their students. While this process feels out of control and overwhelming, it is imperative to take the time to process each meeting and determine the best outcomes for your child as a student. If you have questions, it’s your right to ask for clarification. If you are unsure or something doesn’t feel right, the best next step is to reach out to the school staff and ask the question.

Here are two definitions provided by the Michigan Alliance for Families that assist in better understanding the types of supports offered:

504 Plan:A plan that lists  accommodations (such as audiobook, note taking aids and extended time of assignments) so that a student with a disability has equal access to the general education curriculum.

IEP (Individualized Education Plan): a written document for students with disabilities, between the ages of 3 and 26 years old, who receive special education programs and related services.

An IEP or 504 Plan is where most schools will start the process. A 504 Plan will be one meeting that will include input from parents and school professionals regarding accommodations for the student. An IEP  will involve input from parents and school staff along with observations and assessments (completed while in school). For both options, parents are invited to provide any documentation from additional providers.

Both of these documents are “living documents” – meaning that at any time, they can be reviewed and changes can be made. Furthermore, each year both the 504 Plan and IEP would be reviewed with the parents and school professionals. At that time, additional services or accommodations can be put into place or there can be a step down from the level of services provided. 

As mentioned above, the single most important piece to the process is an open line of supportive communication between the school staff and parents.

Remember- if you have a question, ask!

If you feel like you aren’t sure how to best support your child, teen or young adult. Child and Family Solutions Center is here to help. Please call us at 248-851-5437 to get started with supportive services.