Guest post by Dr. Judith Greenberg If you are a parent of a special needs child, you may feel like you need some help but may not be sure who or what to ask. I always suggest that the best approach is to follow a map of the people you think may really want to help you, such as: your friends and family, pediatrician, psychologist, your shul, Rabbi, your child’s school, specific organizations, and most importantly, your own intuition.
Age and the diagnosis of your child’s special needs run the map that you create. My main recommendation is to get home activities down to a specific set of steps: getting ready for bed, dressing in the morning, doing chores, eating and listening to parents are all survival musts. Having a student behave in school is the next step on this map and the school must work with you to achieve the goals on that map.
Mornings can be very difficult if a child has to make decisions or doesn’t like your choices. Start the night before and let your child make one or two clothing choices. Only one outfit may be worn the next day, the second one is an extra in case of a change in the weather. If bathing is an issue, do that at night too. This leaves a lot less for the morning, but please remember that a half an hour is not the same to your child as it is to you. Children have a different internal clock and time is endless, so you may need to use a timer, or cell phone to remind your son or daughter that only fifteen minutes are left before leaving for the school bus. When it comes to behaviors that you would like to improve, try a sticker reward chart or a computer or video time reward for a day or week of your child controlling a behavior. If you think two behaviors can be worked on, that is fine. However it is probably more effective to work on one first and see what your child can deal with in a week. Study what makes your child happy and then reward with “happy things”. Do not punish as this just makes life harder for a child that is trying to understand what is expected of her. Start off slowly and gradually move up to more expectations.
School needs to be on your map. If you are satisfied with your Yeshiva or public school’s special needs program and your child has an IEP or 504 Plan, be sure to set up a meeting to review the plan before school starts each year as your child’s needs change quickly and it is better to be ready when school starts, but not after issues arise two months later. Schools can’t make you wait for a deadline date, you can have a meeting any time you feel there is a problem or concern. Schools have to accommodate your child and follow through on their promises.
Hold the school to the letter of the law. Whether you chose to enroll you child in a Yeshiva or in a public or private school that has better provisions for him or for her, be sure to attend Open House visits and also ask if you can visit on a regular day to talk with the principal, counselor, service providers, psychologist or any other professionals that pertain to your child. Do not select a school based on just your friend’s opinion, every child is very different. Working with an educational consultant or advocate is also helpful as such professionals attend meetings and visits schools all the time and will know answers to your questions and help you find the best public or private school for your child. A private school must also accept the IEP or 504 Plan but may change as the staff gets to know your child and to make the plan fit their program or even change to a specific Learning Plan that the school follows.
You are never alone because you always have your maps. We live in a time when research organizations are finding so many ways to help families with special needs children and there are groups all across the nation who help families find the help that children need. Join an organization that supports families with special needs. There are many that are tailored specifically to the needs of frum families. There are many special needs support organizations online, or you can check with your Rabbi, school, relatives, educational consultants, and neighbors. Financial planners and attorneys who handle trusts for special needs children and families are specialists in helping parents find help. Help is out there, even on days when you wish you could scream, hide under the bed or just get a massage.