3 Frequent CPSE and CSE questions answered: New York City Parents

It is not secret that growing up is hard to do. Try seeing your kids grow up: It is extremely hard. Now add special needs to the mix, and you get a very, very difficult situation in your hands! Why does this happen?

Change evokes anxiety in everyone. Some people are more equipped to handle this type of anxiety and have developed adequate coping mechanisms. For many of us, any change in our routine can be very stressful, and a child growing up (in some cases too fast!), can be a source of insurmountable stress.

Let’s just say that the educational system as it is does not make it any better. In New York City, children move from kindergarten to first grade, from fifth grade to middle school, and from middle school to high school in a blink of an eye! Parents can’t keep up with all these graduations, moving-on ceremonies, and yes, applications.

For families of children with special needs, transitions are especially stressful as they need to attend evaluations and meetings during these times. In New York City, parents can easily get confused with these procedures.

As a special educator, special family member, and advocate for people with special needs, I often have to answer questions from parents who are worried about what happens when their children get older. Let’s review three of their most common questions and explore possible answers:

1) What happens when my child turns 3 and no longer receives early intervention services? With parents’ consent, children receive an evaluation that will get them ready to start a program at that time. If your child qualifies, she/he will be eligible to get an extension of the services he already receives until she/he starts the program!

2) What happens when my child turns 5 and can no longer attend his/her preschool program? With parents’ consent, children receive a new evaluation, and a new program (for kindergarten) will be determined. Technically, most schools should be able to serve most students with special needs. However, if this is not the case, a different program will be selected. This can be a difficult process and parents do well in pursuing the help of a professional at this time.

3) Can I still submit and application for Pre-K or Kindergarten, even if my child had an evaluation? The answer is yes! Whether your child will attend one of these programs will depend on what his/her needs are, but you can (and should) make sure that you submit those applications. We never what the future has in store. This will ensure you cover all bases!

Family having dinner.
Dr. Klimek and her special village.

If you have any questions or comments, please drop me a note!

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The Special Education “Reform”

What does The Special Education Reform mean? Let me tell you my experience. . .

In my former life as a New York City school administrator, one of the tasks that I was entrusted with, was to explain to families the meaning of what the New York City Department of Education called the Special Education Reform, which as one of my former bosses would say, has been in place for many years and barely qualifies for “reform” status anymore.  Having said that, it is still a great source of confusion for families and staff alike.  As a matter of fact, even though I had the task of explaining this to families, I could not escape the fact that after so many years, people had started to forget the federal law that protects children with disabilities, their education, and their parental rights, and started to advocate the “reform” as if it replaced IDEA.

In its purest form, the “reform” refers to the policy that ensures that all students can be served in all schools, and at face value, this sounds like a great policy  (right?)  Without getting into specifics, the initial purpose of it was to reduce the likelihood of discrimination and it make equal access a priority.  On the surface, all these things are correct.  The special education reform may work very well, for some.  The problem with an all-encompassing policy that doesn’t consider individual needs is the issue of equity.

In fact, equity is not the same as treating everyone equally.  When students are treated with equity, their individual needs are taken into account. They are treated fairly and impartially. The reform, although well-meaning in theory, confused those entrusted to deal with students, those in a position to make decisions, and in turn, confused many parents.  What many parents worried about has come true.  Students can be placed in any school regardless of their specific needs.  My old boss used to say to me that this was actually a good thing.  She even threatened a group of enrollment directors at a meeting where I was present with taking away all access to special education software for their staff, so that they would not be able to know or assist the parents in any type of special education transaction.  Every student, she said, would be treated “equally.”  She was correct.  They would be treated equally, but they would not be treated with equity.

For those of us that understand disability at a deep personal level, this type of assessment is not acceptable.  Yes, as parents, we should assume that our children have the same rights to attend any school we want.  However, we should also be able to assess for ourselves if we think a school is a good fit for our child given our child’s needs.  We should be able to assess whether we feel comfortable with the services offered to our children.  And yes, we should also have a right to receive the recommended services on our child’s IEP as they are recommended on the IEP.  The IEP is a legal document, not a suggestion.

What do you do if you feel that your child’s rights are not taken seriously?  As upset as you might be, please know that there are legal resources and that the law protects your rights as a parent.  Consult with an advocate and be prepared to be your child’s voice.

Drop me a note if you need assistance.

Best,

Dr. Klimek

Equity promotes inclusion and diversity!

The Ultimate Goal of Education: Learning how to learn!

In my work with young children, I often get asked by caring parents about what goal/s I’m working on with their children.  For the most part, goals are varied and they depend a great deal on 1) the functioning level of the child, 2) the needs of the family.  When working with very young children (0-3 years old), the family is the principal stakeholder. 

But no matter the individual goals and objectives for each child, the main goal of education is to help children become independent so that they can learn for themselves.  College students, for example, will have forgotten over seventy five percent of what they learned in college a few years after graduation (my observation), but they would have learned HOW TO LEARN.  They would have become smart consumers and will know how to keep themselves abreast of the latest developments in their field.  We don’t want physicians that only remember what they learned in medical school!  We want them to keep themselves up on the latest medical news!

Similarly, children (even young children) need to learn how to learn.  How do they do this?  With some individual variables, we can say that most children learn by 1) being shown how to do tasks (commands or play), 2) being given the opportunity to repeat those tasks, even if they make mistakes, 3) and providing them with free play time.  This last point is important, as it will be used to reveal how much a child can do by him/herself.

Children need modeling, and strategies and techniques in order to learn from those around them, but they also need space to be able to practice on their own.  Two -year old children have a difficult time sitting for any period of time as it is, and it is not natural to have them sit and pay attention for a long period of time.  This would set an unrealistic expectation for the parent and it would only hurt the chances that the child will be able to learn how to learn.   We need to build in time for children to express themselves.

Next time you wonder what’s the best legacy you can leave for your child, think of yourself as the nest, and of your children as birds who are slowly spreading their wings so that they can fly.  What can you do for them to become more independent?  What does your child like?  What is your child good at?  Does he like to do what he/she is good at or does he/she struggle?  Make sure that when you teach your child about “learning,” you make it look more like play. 

Of course, there will be times when you will feel like you need help, and you should ask for help!  If you have a young child, and need help determining whether your child would qualify for the early intervention program, click here.  If your child is 3 to 21 years old, and you need help determining whether you should request help, and want to know more about help in school systems, contact your child’s school psychologist, or drop me a note at ourspecialvillage@gmail.com.  I will get back to you.

All The Best!

Dr. Klimek.

Two young smiling  women in graduation caps and gowns.
Ready to engage with the World!

The Special Education Continuum Explained: How to Determine the Best Placement for your Child-Part 2

(Please read background post here)

What is the best class for my child?

This is the most common question that I hear from parents who are getting ready to have a Turning 3* or a Turning 5** IEP meeting.  It is also a common concern for parents whose children have been recently diagnosed and will be in a similar situation.  The truth is, the right placement depends on your child’s needs, and your child’s needs should be at the heart of every IEP meeting that will result in a recommendation for placement for any student.

“But, wait”!  You may say.  “My child has just been diagnosed with Williams Syndrome.  Doesn’t that mean that he will need a much more restrictive environment, like perhaps a 12.1.4 self-contained class”?  Not necessarily.  Having a diagnosis does not necessarily mean that the student will AUTOMATICALLY be placed in a certain type of setting.  The diagnosis, or educational label, may inform the team and the providers as to what methods, strategies, and techniques may be useful for your child to learn optimally, but labels do not determine specific needs for every child. Neither can a diagnosis determine how much contact your child will have with his/her typically developing peers. 

Ideally, the IEP team at your child’s school (or at the regional Committee of Special Education) will have conducted an evaluation that covers every area of your child’s development.  This evaluation will help determine specific needs in the different domains, such as the cognitive, social, affective, and language domains.  You should make sure that the team that evaluated your child explains what was observed and what this would mean for assessing your child’s recommendation.  Please remember that you are also an integral part of the IEP team, and your feedback will provide invaluable input and will help the team determine what is best in your child’s case.

What happens if members of the team disagree on what recommendation to make?  Of course, in an unrealistic world all members of all teams agree on everything.  Of course, this is not a good way to grow.  We do well when we reveal our ideas and share them.  We may come up with better scenarios.  As a parent, do not be hesitant to share what you think and feel!  It is important! 

What happens if no matter what is said, the team does not agree with the parent?  There are certain resources to pursue in this case.  We will explore these and more in Part 3.  Stay tuned!

As always, if you have questions, drop me a note.

Best Placement Options
We all benefit when our special loved ones experience the best educational placement!
  • Turning 3 refers to an IEP meeting carried out when the child ages out of the Early Intervention Program and is ready to join preschoolers.
  • Turning 5 refers to an IEP meeting carried out when the child ages out of preschool and is ready to join elementary school peers.

The Special Education Continuum Explained: How to Determine the Best Placement for your Child-Part I

Determining the best placement for a child in special education can be nerve-wrecking, a process loaded with anxiety and uncertainty.  Many questions flood a parent’s mind:  What if I make the wrong decision for my child?  What if my child cannot adjust to a new, more structured environment?  What if the environment is not structured enough?  These and many other questions are very common and likely to worry a parent’s mind before, during, and after the evaluation and IEP period (For more information about IEPs, click here).  The good news is that these are very common concerns, widely shared among parents, and special education professionals and IEP teams across the school systems are ready to answer most questions posed by parents. 

Now, in order to better understand what would better serve the needs of each particular child, it is important to understand and recognize the importance of the special education continuum.  What is this continuum? you may ask.  The continuum simply refers to the ability to determine what is the best placement for your child, based on his or her individual needs.  In a nutshell, it refers to the amount support that may be needed, the amount of structure, the amount of restriction.  What does restriction mean in this case?  The more restrictive the environment, the less contact that the student with special needs will have with his normally developing peers.  For example, a student who only needs what is commonly called a “resource room,” or in other words, a pull-out program where a teacher may reinforce concepts learned in Math or in English Language Arts, has contact with his normally developing peers for the majority of the school day.  A student who attends a self-contained classroom within a regular school may have contact with his normally developing peers during Gym time, lunch time, etc.  However, a student who attends a specialized school may have a very limited contact with his other peers. 

How is a more restrictive environment more suitable for some students?  Some children require an amount of support that can only be achieved when all attention is devoted to them.  They do better when they have more undivided instruction, and when there is no reason to deviate professional attention from them.  In some of these programs, even periods such as lunch are instructional (“instructional mealtime”).  Other students, who do not need this amount of support may do just as well in other, less restrictive environments. 

What does the continuum look like, in terms of services and class size? In general, from less restrictive to more restrictive, it will look like this:

  1. Resource Room, or Special Education Support Services.  A teacher is in charge of specialized instruction for a student or group of students in a particular subject matter.
  2. Integrated Co-Teaching.  A class that consists of students with and without IEPs, co-taught by a regular education teacher and a special education teacher.
  3. Special Class in a regular community school.  A class that is self-contained, typically with 12 students, within the confines of a regular, community school building.
  4. Special Class in a Specialized school.  A class that is self-contained, that may or may not be within a regular, community school building, but is managed by a specialized administration and team.
  5. Non-Public School.  A more structured, private setting, setting.
  6. Home or Hospital Instruction.  For some students who are homebound or hospital-bound, this may be the least restrictive form of instruction.

A knowledge of the special education continuum helps tremendously when identifying how to place your child.  The professionals that form the IEP team ideally would have assess all of these options and should be prepared to discuss a few of these options with you, to help make this determination. 

If you are preparing for an IEP meeting, or have referred your child for an evaluation, chances are that you are thinking of all of these options, or perhaps just a few.  Be prepared to answer questions based on your child’s needs, as they are evident to you, and the knowledge of the continuum, as you see it on this list.

More to come on this topic!

Best Placement leads to Best Outcomes!

I’m so Afraid!

Your child’s education may seem like a puzzle, an enigma that is difficult to figure out. Sometimes it is overwhelming, and it is easier to freeze with fear than to push ahead. I want to tell you that it is ok to be afraid. It is also ok to not know what to do, to not have all the answers. We need to start somewhere, and sometimes where we start it is a place of fear. Making peace with fear and accepting that fear will be a factor that is present in our lives will make an impact and will help in moving forward.
How do we deal with fear? It is important to know, that even though “conquering fear” is a very popular concept, it is not a practical one. Fear is something to accept, live with, recognize, but never let it rule us. Fear is an emotion, just like any other. Fear should not overcome us. When we are overwhelmed by feelings of “what do I do next?” or “why would they listen to me?” it is important to say, “Fear, I know you, I understand you, but I have to put you aside for now.” This is how we move on. We continue to move forward in spite of our fear. We continue to push ahead. We continue to walk this journey, together with our fear.
So when fear strikes, and the IEP meeting is around the corner, we should still ask questions, even if we are shaking, even if we feel like our question is not worth asking. All questions are worth spending time on, and all fears are worth exploring. People that deal with these situations should be understanding. If they are not, the burden is not on you. It’s on them.
Take a deep breath, exhale, and feel the spark within yourself. You can do this. You are afraid, yes, but you can do this, for yourself, for your child, and for your family.
And as always, reach out to me with comments and questions. You are not alone.

I referred my child for an IEP, now what?

You have just made a very difficult decision: You have decided that your child may do better in school, and perhaps in other areas of life, if a special plan is put into place to help him/her achieve academically. Now that this decision has been made, and you are done writing the letter that will determine your child’s future, what do you do?
For starters, give yourself a pat on the back. There will be many decisions that you will be faced with in the future, many difficult decisions, and this is just one of them. Once you have taken some time to do this, realize that you need to vigilantly keep track of how the evaluation proceeds. The time that elapses between referral and IEP should not be more than sixty days.
The evaluation process will consist of a few steps, but most importantly, this is a time for the team (more on the “team” later) to start assessment planning to figure out what is needed in terms of assessment. Typically, this assessment will include a social history report (generally done by a social worker interviewing the parent), a Psychosocial assessment (typically performed by a school psychologist during school hours), and classroom observations. These evaluations will determine “eligibility,” which means whether a student qualifies for special education services, or not. What determines this? Three criteria are used: 1) The student must have a disability, 2) The disability must have an impact in the student’s learning, 3) This disability/impact cannot be addressed in the general education classroom.
As a parent, this process can be overwhelming. It can also be nerve-wrecking. It is difficult to stay calm and collected when you don’t know what decision will be made, and worse yet, wonder whether the decision that is made is the best for your child. As a parent though, you have the right to ask questions, follow up, express your opinion, and be a very active member of this evaluation. You can approach the social worker, the school psychologist, and even the teacher/s and school administrators with your questions or concerns. The purpose of the evaluation is to come up with the strongest plan possible, and careful planning is very important. Your role is important!
As always, if you have any questions or you just want to share your experience, do not hesitate to write me a note!

Love,
Dr. Klimek

What is an IEP?

If your child was diagnosed with a disability, especially if this happened within the context of school, chances are that school personnel has approached you and has spoken to you about an “IEP.” In the shock of finding out that your child has a developmental disability, you may not even have had the strength to ask what it is. There are so many things in your mind!
IEP stands for Individualized Educational Plan. It is “individualized” because it belongs to your child and to your child alone. Each specific plan includes details that aim to capture the needs of each child, the level of functioning of each particular child, and delineates what is needed from now on. It is “educational” because this plan pertains to education and not to other areas of life. However, education does lead to other areas, such as vocational or post-secondary goals, and those areas are also covered on the IEP. It is a “plan” because it contains goals, objectives, methods, strategies, and a way to measure whether those goals have been attained. It is supposed to be assessed and revised accordingly over time.
IEPs are also legal documents that show what the student needs and what the student is entitled to. They clearly identify how a student best learns and the recommended settings and accommodations needed. This is very important as the family needs to be aware not only that the IEP exists, but also that this is a document that they have direct input on, access to, and also guarantees the exercise of parental rights, should a child not receive the services delineated on the IEP.
We will continue to talk about the many ramifications of a newly written IEP. In the meantime, please drop me a note if you have any questions.

Love,
Dr. Klimek