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Put Yourself in Their Shoes: What Parents of Children with Disabilities Face Every Day

Special Education Basics for Health Care Professionals

Having a child with a disability can be all-consuming. Caring for the child might take most of a parent’s time and energy. Parents often feel isolated by the experience. It puts stress on their marriages and families.

When they turn to the education system, they might just encounter yet another layer of stress.

Parents often have to fight school districts for access to limited resources. Special education services, after all, are complicated and expensive to provide.

So, raising a child with a disability turns parents into activists.

If you work in a health care field that puts you in contact with families of children with disabilities, it’s important to understand the emotions they are feeling and the challenges they are facing.

At Cuddy Law Firm in Cleveland and around the country, we work with these families all the time and help them navigate the system.

In your work, you could be in a position to alert a family that they should be receiving certain services from the public schools.

To help you with this, we’ve assembled this introduction to special education for health care providers.

This is a major issue, with the U.S. Department of Education reporting that 6.5 million young people receive special education services. That amounts to 13 percent of all public-school students.

In Ohio, 14.8 percent – or 255,168 students – are enrolled in special education.

Let’s examine two central laws that apply to these students.

Key Special Education Law: IDEA

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is at the core of special education in the United States.

It requires school districts to provide “a free and appropriate education” to students with disabilities.

The law covers 13 categories of disabilities, including autism, blindness, deafness, specific learning disabilities and orthopedic impairments.

Once a child is evaluated as having a disability, the law requires a team of educators, working with parents, to develop an “individualized education program” (IEP) outlining the child’s educational goals and the services the school will provide.

The IEP works like a contract directing how the school will support the child.

One of the major challenges parents face is making sure schools follow the IEPs.

Another key principle under the IDEA is that students with disabilities learn in the “least restrictive environment,” meaning that they learn alongside students in general education classrooms as much as possible.

Rights for Children with Disabilities: Section 504 plans

A second important protection for children with disabilities comes under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

This is a civil rights law meant to stop discrimination against public-school students because of their disabilities. It doesn’t govern special education, but it provides another avenue for parents to get special attention for their children.

If a child has problems with learning but doesn’t qualify for an IEP under the specific disability categories of the IDEA, Section 504 creates a mechanism called a 504 plan.

These plans usually are for students who spend their entire school day in general education classrooms but need accommodations – such as more time to take a test or extra attention from teacher specialists in certain subjects – to help them work through a learning deficit.

After a school’s evaluation deems a child eligible for a 504 plan, teachers, school administrators and parents work together to develop the plan.

Like with an IEP, parents then have to stay vigilant and monitor how well the school provides the accommodations outlined in the plan to help the child.

Parents as Advocates

The parents you might see in your health care facility have to learn these laws and navigate their local school system.

Out of necessity, they become dedicated advocates for their children.

This advocacy immerses them in the tasks of researching, record-keeping, interviewing authorities, building relationships with school officials, negotiating, planning, identifying problems, proposing solutions and making presentations.

It’s intense. It can be like another full-time job. And it’s what families you see might be going through.

Cuddy Law Firm understands these challenges. Our driving mission is to stand up for the rights of children and families.

We have in-depth knowledge of the IDEA and Section 504.

We know how to document a child’s situation and argue for the result that provides the appropriate educational benefit.

People often don’t realize there are lawyers who help families in these situations.

As a health care professional, we know you, too, are passionate about the well-being of children. If you meet a family struggling to gain access to the right educational services for a child with disabilities, tell them about Cuddy Law Firm.


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