By: Allene Grafman, M.S.
CAA Special Education Advocate
Former School Administrator, Special Education
Your child is entering pre-school or is now enrolled in a pre-school and attending two or three times a week. You may be feeling those little stomach pangs or nervous sensation about how your ‘baby’ will do or is doing. You ask yourself the questions will I get a call from the school today? Will he/she have a good day today? Of course, you know your child well, but in a school environment, how does he/she adapt and function on a daily basis? At such a young age, it is difficult to ask your child questions and expect a detailed and helpful response. Teachers may be somewhat hesitant and reluctant to specify their concerns and pass on their message to you with descriptors such as your child is a bit immature, is transitioning, developing and shy. As parents, you want to be vigilant, proactive and alert to any or all signs of a struggling toddler who may be experiencing a developmental lag. Early intervention is key and you want to be on top of the situation.
This article is written to help parents who are concerned that their young child appears to be lagging behind his/her peer group in one or more of the developmental areas, and those who may be coming to the realization that things are just ‘not right’.
The first step is to recognize the need for action, and the next step is to know how to proceed.
Common warning signs:
Look for the following behaviors in your child and note the consistency, longevity, severity and patterns of occurrence:
• Difficulty falling asleep and/or maintaining sleep
• An over dependence upon adults
• An unwillingness or resistance to going to school
• A discomfort about sharing or retelling about his/her school day when asked
• An aura of sadness or aloofness • Demanding excess attention from adults/peers
• Behavior or attention problems at home and at pre-school
• Inability to sustain an activity to completion
• Impulsive response to typical requests
• Crying easily or physical behaviors such as excessive thumb sucking
• Pretend illnesses or feeling of being sick
• Unusual bed wetting and/or accidents
• Unusual appetite (lack of interest in eating or over eating)
This list is by no means exhaustive or exclusionary. However it will help you focus on behaviors that may be associated with your child having difficulties at school.
Look for the following information and document each with reference to dates and/or duration as appropriate
• Phone calls or emails from teachers relative to your child having a difficult day or incident at school
• Behavior incidents or isolation from peers
• Difficulty with peer social relationships at school
• Refusal to participate in group activities or individual activity
• Shutting down and non-compliance
• Paperwork that is either unfinished or sub standard to the quality of work you know your child is capable of doing
What to do?
If warning signs persist and behaviors become more apparent and disruptive, it is time to meet with the pre-school team. Let the teachers know your concerns and share your file of on-going incidents and behaviors. See if the teachers share the same and/or similar concerns. As this is collaboration between you and the school, it is important to both listen and to give input and feedback. It may be a good idea to tape record the meeting so you do not have to be concerned about taking notes. Above all, advocate for your child.
How to advocate for your child:
• Ask the pre-school team to do some structured observations in regards to the areas of concern.
• Meet to discuss the results of the observations and investigate the need for either informal or formal assessments.
• If you and the pre-school team are considering formal assessments, then you would need to contact the school district for a Planning and Placement Team meeting (PPT). The purpose of the PPT is to determine if your child needs further intervention through specialized instruction in any of the following areas: pre-academic, social, emotional, speech and language and/or adaptive skills.
• Ask the school psychologist in your school district to explain the PPT process. Navigating the PPT process can be complex, so elicit the support of school staff, knowledgeable friends and family or talk to an educational advocate who can assist you with your questions and explain the procedures and your parental rights.
• Your state also has a website for special education. Most states offer a parent friendly version of the PPT framework and process.
• As a parent entering into the special education process, you will receive your procedural safeguards. These are laws and are specific to your legal rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It is critical you review and familiarize yourself with them.
The process that leads to special education can be overwhelming and confusing to parents. Understanding the PPT process and how a PPT is conducted and carried out is essential to achieving positive results.
Parents may feel the need to seek out private resources and professionals to administer evaluations that can assist in determining if there is a specific cause to their child’s struggles. Such findings may include a specific learning disability, autism, attention deficit disorder or an intellectual disability to name a few. There are many organizations and resources that parents can turn to for information and direct support in navigating through the PPT process, and facilitating effective communication between home and school.
As a parent, you know your child best. Often it is your instinct that drives you to make the decisions you do on a daily basis. We must remember that ALL children exhibit behaviors that are concerning. However the key points to consider are the persistence, consistency and intensity of these warning signs. It is not the intent of this article to overwhelm you but to give you the impetus to move ahead by alerting yourself to the warning signs and establishing the next steps for an action-based plan. You will then become the advocate you need to be for your child.