Chapter 9: Could My Child Need Special Help?

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Normal struggles or something more?

Every child has a hard time in school once in a while. It’s a very normal part of learning. Usually a child will struggle for a few days — or even a week or two — with a new concept before having an “Aha!” moment. After that, the thing that stumped her will suddenly make sense, and she will move forward again with leaps and bounds.

If your child is struggling with reading every day, though, and doesn’t seem to be making any progress, she may need more specialized help than her regular classroom teacher can give her. It may be time to ask if she qualifies for special education.

Only as much help as she needs

One fear many parents have when they hear the words “special education” is that their child will be isolated in some way or removed from the classroom where she feels comfortable. If your child qualifies for special education because of a reading problem, this will not happen.

Federal law requires that all children in special education be placed in the “least restrictive environment.” This means that although a child may have to leave her regular classroom to spend time with a reading specialist, she will still be allowed to participate in her regular classroom in every other way.

Does my child qualify for special education?

Under federal law, your child’s school must follow very specific steps to determine whether or not she qualifies for special education. This process can start when a school professional believes your child should be tested to see if she needs extra help in one or more areas. You can also request that your child be evaluated by talking to your child’s teacher or someone else at the school.

The testing will show whether or not your child qualifies for special education or other services the school offers. You will be asked to give your consent before any testing starts. If you don’t agree with the school’s decision, you can ask for your child to have an independent educational evaluation paid for by the school.

What is an IEP?

If your child qualifies for special help with reading, she will be given an IEP. This stands for individualized education program. This is a program designed especially for your child. It will be developed at a meeting that you will attend. At the meeting, school staff will tell you what they believe is the best program for your child. You will be able to talk about what you think is best for your child, as well.

Getting ready for your child’s IEP meeting

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed at your child’s IEP meeting, especially the first one. After all, you don’t quite know what to expect. Here are a few things to do before — and during — your child’s IEP meeting to help things go smoothly:

  1. Bring your child’s file. The school will undoubtedly have lots of paperwork to show you — your child’s test scores, for instance. But it’s still important to bring your own file. You may have information to which the school doesn’t have access, such as your child’s medical records or recommendations from your child’s doctor.
  2. Bring an advocate. Have your spouse, a friend or a family member come to the meeting with you. You may be nervous at the meeting. Your advocate can help you feel calm. He or she can also remind you of the questions you wanted to ask and may even come up with other questions that didn’t occur to you. Your advocate can also write down the answers to the questions you ask.
  3. Remember why you’re there. Even if things don’t run smoothly, try to remember that everyone involved is there to help. If you disagree with what is being said, take a deep breath and restate your concerns.
  4. Remember who’s in the driver’s seat. While you will certainly want to consider any advice or recommendations the school staff has to offer, do not feel pressured to agree with a decision that doesn’t feel right. If you feel uncertain, you can even ask for more time to think about the options before deciding what’s best for your child.


U.S. Department of Education, “My Child’s Special Needs,”