Due to COVID-19, our children are spending a great amount of time at home. Frequent quarantines and school closures are causing havoc on the academic and mental well-being of our children. This is not a “throw away” school year; it’s the perfect opportunity to watch, understand, and document how your child learns. Pay attention to when, where, and how they are struggling—now is your chance to note these concerns and share them with their school. This is powerful and can have a large impact on your children’s education.
As you document your observations, you may see a pattern start to arise. Do you suspect depression or anxiety? Perhaps you suspect dyslexia? Maybe ADHD? All of these are covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and your child may qualify for services that could help them make progress. You can notify your child’s school in writing that you suspect a learning disability that might be causing them to struggle. The school will then contact you to determine when and how to start the evaluation process. You can also contact your pediatrician or a special education advocate who can offer referrals and guidance.
Know Your Options
Once the evaluations are complete, your child may qualify for a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Knowing the difference between these two is important. A 504 plan is all about access—it guarantees equal access to an education. Think of it as leveling the playing field. So, if a child has a qualifying disability, such as ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety, or diabetes, the question becomes what do they need to access their education? What kind of accommodations will help them succeed? Do they need extended time? Will audio books help? There are a myriad of possibilities that can be used during online learning. If the suspected learning disability affects a major life activity, they will qualify. Remember, grades are not an indicator of a disability. Your child can have good grades due to your support, coping mechanisms, or even sheer will. Many children have strong coping mechanisms that mask learning problems.
An IEP differs greatly from a 504. You do not “get” an IEP, rather, you are found eligible for one. This means your child will receive specialized instruction. They will have annual goals, accommodations, and a clear plan on how they will make progress. This includes things like social or emotional needs, academics, and attention. There are 13 categories under which your child could qualify for services, such as dyslexia, speech or language impairment, or vision and hearing impairment.
If you feel there is a need, act quickly. The sooner the process starts, the sooner your child can get assistance. My motto is “Intervene early and often. Don’t wait.” The documentation of what you saw at home, possible input from a pediatrician, therapist, or other advocate, and your child’s experience are all things to share with the school. In these times of frustration, there is hope! Reach out to the experts, everyone is more than happy to help.