School-related decisions seem to be an ever-present issue for all families, but especially for families with a child with unique learning needs. Here are some tips I find myself frequently providing parents in regards to their child's education:
* Just because a service or option is available doesn't mean you have to take it. Go with your gut feeling and do what you believe is right for your child. If you don't think the speech sessions are helping then stop them. If you don't want the weekly home visit from the early intervention specialist then don't do them. If you think your child needs to be home with you rather than at school for some of all of the day, then do it. Do not allow what "other people" say or do to steer you in the wrong direction with your child. Do not allow "the professionals" to over-ride your own good judgment about what your child needs. Don't be afraid to go against the grain or make a different choice in the best interest of your child and family.
* Don't hem and haw over the next 15 years of your child's school career when you only need to be making a decision about what to do for right now. I have met with too many parents who are paralyzed at the thought of pursuing something different from the status quo because they wonder what the ramifications will be 10 years down the road. Schools make decisions about placement and services one year at a time based on the current needs of the child and parents should do the same. You may feel that something is important for your child right now, and feel completely different about it a year from now. None of us can predict the future with certainty - no matter how hard we try! What is important is making the right decision for this point in time, and re-evaluating as you go along.
* Do not buy into the idea that there is a certain place out there that is a perfect fit and if you just keep searching long enough you will find it. No setting is perfect and there will be flaws and problems that crop up wherever you go. What is important is finding the right people who are willing to customize things to work for the best interest of each child - people who will bring you as parents in as part of the team and will work with you to ensure progress.
* Don't get hung up on labels! I couldn't care less what a certain classroom is called as long as the people are invested in setting high standards and helping each child reach his or her potential. Very often programs have the names they have for the purpose of paperwork and reporting - nothing more. Visit lots of places - meet the staff and watch them in action; get a feel for the environment; watch the other students. Those are the critical elements in determining whether a classroom is a good fit for your child - not whether the name of the classroom matches the label of the child.
* Finally, keep the developmental level of your child and the amount in mind when making educational decisions. There is tremendous pressure to put children, particularly those with autism, into formal educational settings earlier and earlier, but that may not be the best decision for your child. If you know your child is not ready for a classroom-based program then don't send them. There is a tremendous amount to be gained from allowing children to benefit from the guidance of their parents during the early stages of development - and that process can take longer in children with unique learning needs. The same goes for children who experience significant amounts of stress in school. Parents must carefully weigh the potential benefits of a school environment against the amount of stress that is caused and the detrimental impact of that stress over time. Each of us as parents needs to take a good hard look at our child and decide if they are ready to enter a school setting for some or all of the day, or if they need more time to be truly successful and derive benefit from that environment. Again, don't be afraid to make a different choice; to say "thanks, but not now" to school-based options if your child is not ready.
Maybe some of these things touch on issues you have been thinking about in relation to your child's education. Don't be afraid to think outside the box and do what is right for your child at this point in time. You are your child's best advocate and are in the best position to make decisions regarding your child's education - don't let anyone tell you otherwise!