Understanding Your Child’s Abilities and Limitations
As a parent of a child with special education needs, it is important to be as informed as possible about your child’s abilities and limitations.
Parents and educators do not always have all the information they need to make good decisions about whether a particular student is “exceptional” and the category of exceptionality.
Effective parent-advocates will gather as much information as they need to understand the challenges that their children are facing, as well as their gifts. The purpose of gathering this information is to be able to assist your child in overcoming the challenges that they face, and supporting them in developing their gifts.
Sharing this information with your child’s education team can be useful when making decisions about your child’s education, and in developing an education plan.
It is always a good idea to keep any information you find useful in your child’s Home File.
The first part of the planning process for students with special education needs usually begins with early identification of learning problems, disabilities or diagnoses that need to be considered by the people that will make decisions about your child’s education, and the people that will deliver education programs and services to your child.
Early Identification of Children’s Learning Needs – Policy/Program Memoranda No. 11 describes principles and resources recommended by the Ministry of Education for the identification of the learning needs of students prior to grade 3.
In grade 3, students can be formally identified as “exceptional” by an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee.
Where Can I Find Information?
There are many ways of gathering information about your child that will be useful in assessing your child’s education needs, and deciding on an education plan. You can gather information on your child’s specific disability or diagnosis by:
Your Own Observations
From your daily observations of your child, you will notice many things about their skills, their dreams, how they think and how they behave, that for parents will be a source of joy or concern.
Recording your observations and feelings in writing will be useful in making informed decisions later on.
If you have taken your child to see a doctor, nurse, counselor or social worker about difficulties with communication, learning, or behavioural problems, or a specific disability, ask for the professional’s assessment of your child in writing.
Put a copy of all written assessments in your child’s Home File.
Probably the best way to find good information fast is to talk to parents that have children with the same diagnosis or disability as your child. These parents can speak from their own experience, provide support, and direct you to the best books, journal articles, web sites or e-mail news groups. Accessing these resources will help to keep you up-to-date and informed about your child’s specific disability or diagnosis.
In Hamilton, and other communities across Ontario, there are many parent associations that can help you. In the Education & Advocacy Links section, we have included links to national, provincial and local associations of parents that have children with specific disabilities or diagnoses.
By networking with other parents and professionals, you can gain valuable information that will help you with day-to-day problem solving and long-range planning.
If your child has received a specific diagnosis from a qualified professional (for example, autism, ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome, or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), you can do your own research on the diagnosis.
Do a web search for books and articles on your child’s diagnosis or disability.
In Hamilton, you can contact the Disability Information Service Helpline (DISH) at
Similar services are available in other community libraries across Ontario.
Make copies of information that you find useful, and keep them in your Home File.
Talk to Your Child
Children that are struggling at school need to be reassured that they are not lazy or stupid because they are having difficulty keeping up with their school work, or having other problems at school. Many children with disabilities are intelligent, but need support, and in some cases special accommodations, to help them succeed.
Be honest and optimistic when speaking with your child. Talk to them about problems and challenges in a way that they can understand, and tell them how you and the classroom teacher plan to support them. Make sure your child understands what is expected of them, and what they need to do to be successful in meeting these expectations.
Listen to what your child has to say. What are your child’s thoughts and feelings? What is he or she most excited about? What are his or her fears?
Let your child know that you are confident that with hard work and the right help, he or she will be able to succeed in school.
Make sure that you organize all of the information that you gather about your child.
Start a Home File that includes:
Keep a logbook of discussions with professionals, and a record of your own observations.
This information will help you to monitor your child's progress, and will provide your child’s education team with the information that they need to make good decisions about your child’s education.
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