What to Do When Your Child’s School Fails to Support Their Needs
By Dyan Robson, And Next Comes L
Photo © basgijsel/Twenty20
May 30, 2018
When your child has a diagnosis, it's supposed to open up access to services and resources your child may need, whether it be within the community or within the school system. However, that's not always the case. Often it takes a lot of advocating and fighting on the parent's part, just to get those services in place.\
I find it's even more difficult to get the supports in place when your child is deemed "high functioning," because they appear to be managing fine in the classroom, for instance. That appearance of "doing fine" does not mean they don't need the support. Because, for my son, he certainly does need specific accommodations and supports in place in order to have a successful school day. That is why he has an individualized education/intervention plan in place.
Sometimes that plan isn't enough and the school year spirals out of control, as it did for us last year.
Relevant Reading: Telling My Son He Has Autism
My son's anxiety about going to school kicked in. He began having meltdowns multiple times a day on a daily basis, and some lasted for for two hours.
School nights were peppered with questions of, "Do I have school tomorrow?" Those questions were followed by tears and screams because the answer was yes.
School soon became his trigger word. A trigger for anxiety, panic attacks and sensory meltdowns.
I have had plenty of time to reflect on what went wrong in his previous school year and I can pinpoint multiple things that contributed to that school year falling apart, but the bottom line was this: the school was failing to support his needs.
My husband and I weighed various options, including switching schools, but knew that switching wouldn't help because we would be starting the whole process over again. A new school would mean he wouldn't have an educational assistant in place and who knows how long that would take to get put into effect? A new school would mean new routines and changes that would have likely been too much for our son to handle at that point. There was also the added complexity of trying to balance two schools for our two children.
The only option was to call an emergency meeting with the principal and resource room teacher, demand a new teacher and fight even harder than I had before to advocate for his needs.
School soon became his trigger word.
Basically, I had to become the parent the school dreaded hearing from because if I didn't fight for my son's needs, who would? His needs were clearly not being met.
While they did not agree to our request to switch teachers, the meetings we had were productive and helpful in making sure my son's needs were met for the remainder of the school year.
Perhaps you find yourself in the same difficult spot, wondering what your options are. While it may seem like there aren't too many options, there are a few things you can try before resorting to pulling your child from school or switching to a new school.
Obviously, your approach may depend on the severity of the issues you are encountering, but here are some of my suggestions, from one struggling parent to another.
- Voice your concerns through written communication, such as email, to have a paper trail of your discussions with the school (in case you need them as proof, if you need to escalate to a higher authority).
- Arrange a meeting (or regular meetings if needed!) with the school's principal, teacher and resource or special education teacher to discuss your concerns.
- Check in frequently with the teacher, educational assistant and other support staff to ensure the changes are being put into place and carried out.
- If school drop-offs are where some of the issues are occurring, work with the school to develop a plan to ease the transition into the classroom.
- Ask for regularly scheduled body breaks for your child to ensure they are getting their sensory needs met — this made a huge difference for us!
- Escalate to a higher authority — such as the special education coordinator for the school board — if the school continues to fail your child after multiple attempts to address the ongoing issues. This worked really well to get my son an educational assistant back in kindergarten when the principal of the school at that time told me to "sit tight" because of budget cuts.
- Attend advocacy support groups or workshops in your local area to find out what your options are.
- Remember, you need to be your child's advocate.
Relevant Reading: My Autistic Son Has Nothing to Apologize For — He's Wonderful, Thanks
Things can get better in the school system if you work at it. Trust me, this school year has been a completely different experience than last year's simply because of all the hard work I had to put in last year to get the supports for my son in place.
And if things do not improve, then that may be the time to consider other options like switching schools, switching to an entirely different school division, or pulling your child out and homeschooling.