When it comes to special education resources and supports there is not a one size fits all approach. All children are unique and therefore will require a different set of tools to succeed.

When preparing to advocate, it’s important to understand what it is YOUR child needs.

Sometimes I see parents advocating for things that other kids have. They do this because they assume those resources and supports will be beneficial to their child. While your child may indeed benefit from those resources, it isn’t always the case. Back to school is upon us. It is important that we know what supports are “must haves” in order to ensure our child is able to attend school and remain safe and healthy each day.

I encourage you to make a list of the things that you deem as a “non-negotiable” for your child. When listing these items don’t just make a wishlist, but take some time to really consider not only what your child needs, but why your child needs it. Stick to the big ticket items for this list.  Other strategies, accommodations and modifications will be addressed in another blog post.

So how do you identify what resources your child needs at school? Here are some questions to get you thinking.

How will your child be getting to school each day?  Does your child require specialized transportation or supports?

It’s a parent’s responsibility to make sure their child has a safe way to and from school.  This includes how they will get there and back, as well as any provisions necessary to keep the student safe.  School boards and districts though may offer courtesy transportation for students within a certain distance of the school.

However, if your child has special needs, they may be eligible for special needs transportation.  This is usually put into place when your child requires a significant amount of support getting to and from school and whose needs can’t be met on the regular school bus (assuming the child qualifies for transportation at all).

Specialized transportation services and supports could be put into place for many reasons.  For example, if your child has a physical disability or is visually or hearing impaired your child may qualify for specialized transportation. In addition a child who has significant challenges in the area of self-regulation, behaviour, or perhaps sensory needs may also qualify for specialized transportation if their challenges get in the way of their getting to school safely.

The supports that might be required for students with special needs could include accessible transportation, a smaller bus, specialized restraints, or 1:1 assistance getting to and from the bus.

If you think your child may qualify for specialized transportation to and from school, but they don’t currently have it, make an inquiry to your school principal. A great place to start first though is to do some of your own research on your specific school board’s transportation policies.

Does your child have any specialized equipment needs that have been prescribed for your child?

When we think about specialized equipment, we’re referring to equipment that you child needs over and above what the other students need for day to day functioning.  The student must require the equipment in order to safely attend, participate in school routines and access the curriculum.

This could be equipment prescribed by a physiotherapist such as a walker, stander or other type of mobility device.  It could be something prescribed by an occupational therapist such as a specialized seat for the classroom or a different type of toilet seat to aid with the safety and accessibility of the student during personal care routines. These are just examples as there are many possible pieces of equipment a child might need to participate at school.

For students with high needs, an occupational therapist and physiotherapist may be asked to do a consultation to evaluate the current school environment prior to a student starting in a new school or class.  This can also be done as a student’s needs change. This is done to ensure the school environment has what it needs so the student can stay safe and have the proper equipment to access the curriculum.

In addition, the therapists will do an accessibility scan and make recommendations to the staff to ensure the student can enter the school and get around the building.  It’s important that school building meets all of the appropriate accessibility requirements for your child.

A final example of specialized equipment I will touch on here is equipment that supports students in accessing the curriculum.  This could include assistive technology such as laptops, screen readers, braille machines and frequency modulation (FM) systems.

While perhaps less of a priority to some than other specific equipment needs, for students with learning disabilities and related conditions assistive tech is a necessity to give them the ability to access the curriculum and to learn and create at school. You wouldn’t take a cane away from a child with a visually impairment would you?  Of course not. Assistive technology is just as critical for the child with learning disabilities.

Does your child require the support of an educational assistant or an aid?

This is always a tricky question to answer because the truth is there are lots of children who would benefit from this level of support. The flip side to that is that the number of assistants that school boards are able to fund is limited in comparison to the number of special education students in total.  This is why government policies mandate how schools allocate those service and school boards/districts come up with a way to determine eligibility.

Before you approach your school administration to make a request about an aide, you should first familiarize yourself with any government or school board policies regarding eligibility. Classroom assistants are generally only assigned to students who have significant health and safety needs.  This includes but is not exclusive to students who are a flight risk, require g-tube feeding, have significant medical needs, or there are concerns about the safety of the student and other students and staff.

Unfortunately EA’s are not assigned to prevent students from falling behind OR to help them keep up academically. While this frustrates parents, and yes even teachers who generally welcome the additional support, this is the reality of the public education system.

Should you feel your child requires an educational assistant/aide, consider what has been mentioned above and make a list of your child’s health and safety needs.  From there you would approach the school principal to begin discussing the possibilities.

So if you haven’t already, sit down today and make a list of your students “must haves”.  If you are sure those supports are in place then you are in good shape for the upcoming school year.

If not, then you will meet to decide how to approach the school team about your concerns. I will address things to consider BEFORE you approach the team in an upcoming blog post.

In the meantime… make that list!