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April 13, 2024

Empowering Parents: End-of-School-Year Guide for Special Needs Kids

As the end of the school year is getting close, we, as parents, may notice our children facing numerous hurdles. The culmination of a year's worth of learning can be both a time of celebration and  a lot of stress, especially when we suspect that things may not be going as smoothly as expected in school. Whether it's academic pressures, social challenges, or individual learning needs, identifying the root of the problem is the first step in navigating these waters. This guide is written from one parent to another, grounded in shared experiences and a mutual understanding of the support our children need during these pivotal times.

Table of Contents

Recognizing the Signs

As the end of the school year draws to a close, it may unveil a range of challenges that our special needs children have been facing, often undetected. As parents, it is crucial to remain vigilant and observe any changes in our child's behavior that could indicate underlying issues. Signs such as increased anxiety, reluctance to attend school, or a sudden decline in academic performance should not be overlooked. These were some of the indicators I noticed in my own son. It is essential to distinguish between typical school fatigue and more significant obstacles that may be hindering your child's progress.

Sometimes, kids with learning disabilities can have trouble with reading even if they seem okay at school. My son Zavier had this problem, and we found out he had trouble processing what he hears. This was something we didn't know before, but it's important to understand so we can help him better. It's a reminder that we need to look closely and use the right tools to see if kids need extra help.

Every child communicates that they are having problems in their own unique way, which is why it’s imortant for us, as parents, to know their normal patterns and pay attention when they change. Whether it's your child telling you that they don't like school more than normal or a change in behavior at home. You may notice that your child has stopped wanting to participate in family activities, these signals can indicate your child is dealing with some concerns that they are not talking about with you. Paying attention to their level of effort, their grades, and how they compare to past performances can give us insights into the challenges they are bravely trying to overcome.




Understanding Your Child's School Reports

Getting the full picture of our child's academic progress involves comprehending the various grading systems and assessments used by schools. Traditional report cards provide snapshots of progress with grades and teacher comments, but it's the detailed assessments like the graph or MAP tests mentioned by one speaker that can reveal the nuanced areas where a child is struggling or excelling.

These assessments, typically mailed around the beginning and end of the school year, offer a wealth of information, such as demonstrating that a child may be performing at a 1st-grade level in math computations when they are in a higher grade. These important indicators can be crucial for parents to understand where to direct their support. Moreover, systems like IN (independent), LP (limited prompting), FP (frequent prompting), and R (rarely), along with effort grading scales (1 being excellent, 2 satisfactory, and 3 needing improvement), provide additional layers of context to a child's performance.

It’s not uncommon for children with learning disabilities to fall behind in their  core subjects, indicating a need for personalized intervention. Looking through our children’s report cards and test results isn't just about measuring up to standards—it's about understanding their individual educational journey. As the end of the academic year approaches, utilizing these tools empowers us to advocate for our children and make informed decisions about their learning strategies going forward.


The Impact of External Factors

Going to school is not just about learning in class. It's also about how we feel and the things around us. Sometimes big events, like COVID lockdowns, can make going back to school hard because there are so many things happening at once.

The isolation and reduced social interactions during a lockdown can set back children's social and developmental milestones. For some it may irritate the pre-existing condition such as auditory processing disorder, making the transition back to traditional learning environments particularly stressful. As parents, being keenly aware of how such external factors impact our children is crucial in providing them with the necessary support.

Schools too can contribute to these challenges, whether through a strict school programs or a lack of resources tailored to individual needs. The speaker's account of seeking help from outside providers highlights that sometimes the support offered by the educational system may not meet our children’s specific requirements. Recognizing when external influences are hindering rather than helping our children allows us to take steps to mitigate these effects and seek alternatives that align with their needs.

The Role of IEP and Baseline Assessments

Navigating a child's education becomes particularly nuanced when special needs are in play. Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) stand as tailored blueprints for the educational support of children with special needs. Understanding and actively participating in the creation of a child's IEP is one of the most powerful steps a parent can take. Following the speaker's advice, it's crucial to start with a baseline assessment, which serves as the pillar for goal setting in an IEP.

Baseline data establish where a child is starting from in terms of academic achievement and are essential for tracking progress. By reviewing this data, found in initial psychological evaluations and documented on the IEP itself, parents can map out a realistic and effective educational pathway for their child. Beneath the technical jargon, the baseline is essentially our children's story of learning, spotlighting their strengths and the areas where they need our support the most.

For example when your child when your child was first tested the results states your child is on the 2nd grade reading level. You will use as your baseline to compare to your child's current tests or assessments. If you don't have current test results for your child, request them from your child's school.

As emphasized in the podcast, this process takes time and commitment, but it is one of the most influential ways parents can become advocates for their children. The journey is not always smooth; progress may not always align with our expectations. However, becoming well-versed in this system equips us to better understand our child's experiences and to appreciate even the small strides made over the course of the school year.

Seeking External Support

Recognizing when our children need additional assistance is an important step, but knowing where to turn can be hard. The value of seeking external support was  highlighted by a parent's narrative in our podcast, wherein their personal journey shed light on alternative programs that greatly benefitted their child. Programs like the Integrated Listening Systems (ILS) can provide specialized attention that schools may not offer.

From auditory processing assessments to tailored educational strategies, external providers offer a variety of services that can fit unique needs, such as those experienced by the speaker’s oldest child. It is essential to remember, however, that these providers are partners in our child’s education. While placing trust in their expertise is important, it's equally critical to maintain open communication and ensure their methods align with our child's individual goals and the educational benchmarks we aim to achieve.

Sometimes, if the way we are learning at school doesn't work well for us, we can find someone outside of school to help us in a different way. This can make a big difference in how we learn and grow. It's important to think about trying different ways of learning, especially at the end of the school year when we look back on how we have been doing.

Building the Parent-Child Connection

Communicating effectively with our children is paramount to understanding their school challenges. As Genie Dawkins, a parent confidence strategist, discussed on the Parenting Cipher podcast, fostering a connection with our children means engaging with them on their terms – be it through an interest in travel, anime, or even those YouTube channels we might not understand at first glance.

Our children often attempt to start these conversations, as it’s their way of seeking connection and understanding. However, as we juggle the complexities of parenting, especially with children who have unique learning needs, it's easy to overlook these crucial moments of engagement. Just as the speaker and her brother found connection through anime, we can bond with our children by showing genuine interest in their passions—whether it's discussing future travel plans or the latest video game craze.

The act of participating in our children's interests, asking questions, and investing time in their world sends a powerful message - it demonstrates that we value their individuality and respect their perspectives. This not only boosts their confidence but also gives us invaluable insights into their experiences and struggles within the school environment. It's through communication with my son that I was able to understand that his math teacher was overwhelmed which caused there to be a lot of fights in the classroom. Forming this bond isn’t just about being present; it's about being actively involved in the narrative of their lives, ensuring we are in tune with their academic and emotional journey.

Preparing for IEP Meetings and Advocacy

As the end of the school year arrives, it's time to reflect on our children’s Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). When your child is in a special education program preparation for these meetings is non-negotiable for any parent eager to ensure their child receives the best support possible. These are the steps from an IEP checklist to prepare for an IEP meeting.

  1. Review, review, and review! Look over the Individual Education plan draft the school sends you before your meeting. Review your child's report cards, progress reports, and state testing results. Pay attention to your child's wins and the areas they need support.
  2. Ask questions that start with Who, Where, How, Why and When during your child's Individual Education Plan. For example: Who will be teaching my child how to understand when they are angry and how to work through it? When will my child attend occupational therapy and how long are the sessions?
  3. Have your child's Education Binder with at least the previous and current year documents.

Advocacy is more than just showing up; it’s about expressing concerns and asking the right questions. For example, if a school recommends a new intervention program, it is crucial for parents to inquire about the time allocation for their child's special educational services, as suggested by the speaker. If a program requires at least 30 minutes, five times a week, this should align with the time set for our child. It's about ensuring that our children's education is not just adequate but optimized for their individual needs.

Armed with this information, parents can confidently navigate IEP meetings. We should be bold in asking about alternative intervention programs and how the school is meeting our child's unique needs. Receiving detailed progress reports is key - they help us to monitor where our child stands in achieving their goals. Being well-prepared and informed empowers us to be the advocates our children need, enabling us to negotiate the educational landscape with knowledge and resolve.


The conclusion of the school year is a time for reflection, both for us as parents and our children as students. It's a chance to celebrate the triumphs and understand the areas that need more attention. Embracing the challenges, equipped with the knowledge to identify what's not working and the steps to take in support of our children, we become their bedrock and their champions. We've witnessed through personal accounts how embracing outside support, being conscientious of the educational process, and cementing the bond with our child can make all the difference.

Let's take this opportunity to commend ourselves for the strides we've made in advocating for our children's needs. As parents, we've learned and adapted, continuously striving to ensure that our children not only progress but thrive. Our journey is ongoing, and as we navigate the bends and straightaways, let's keep the lines of communication with our children open, our strategies flexible, and our resolve unyielding. Here's to a summer of recharge and an upcoming year of renewed possibilities for our children's education and personal growth.

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