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Ways to Include Parents in the Special Education Process

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

Student's IDEP team

Student's IDEP team

IEP Special Education

Years ago, a college instructor specializing in training future special education teachers uttered the best remark about parents of special needs students.

“Put yourself in their shoes,” he said, “many parents didn’t expect to have a special needs child and don’t usually know what they can do to help.”

He added: “Most don’t know the laws or the procedures of special education because many never expected they’d have to utilize this particular program for their children.”

The statement was also a rebuttal to a commonly held myth that had circulated among special educators. Many within this profession believed parents of special needs students weren't getting involved with their children’s education.

The myth, however, is just that...a myth. Many parents want to play a pivotal part in their children’s education, and many have done exceptional jobs. Still, there are those who are not sure how to do this, and are often feeling lost and confused; especially when it's time for the annual Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting.

Special educators need to be aware of this. They need to be a guiding light for the students and their parents. Also, they need to take the appropriate steps to show parents what they can do.

Parents, on the other hand, need to take initiative. It's their children that need help. And parents can be the best role model for learning, as well as advocates for their education.

Why Get the Parents Involved?

There is one good reason to include parents in the special education process of their children; it’s actually written into the law that affects public school students with special needs.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) - a federal civil rights law that serves as a guide for special education policies throughout the country – stipulates that parents are the ones who make the final decision on their children's education plan, via the IEP.

The IEPs (which is the main component of IDEA) are designed to allow parents to have some input on the creation of the document and policies. On various forms of this contract (since every state, district or SELPA will have different IEP formats), there's a section in which the parents can address their concerns.

By law, the parent needs to be invited and be present at the meeting (however, there are conditions in which the parents can be excused from the meeting if they give permission for the meeting to continue without them). Also, they have the final say in the meeting. The final paper for these meetings is usually the signature page. The IEP can only go into effect if the parents' signature is included in the document.

“Put yourself in their shoes,” he said, “many parents didn’t expect have a special needs child and don’t usually know what they can do to help.”

Consulting the Parents

Aside from mandatory laws to ensure parents are involved, there are other practices special educators can use to ensure parents are involved in the educational process. Often, it involves collaborations with the teachers and other professionals; consultation between case-carrier, teachers, and parents; and personal practices parents can use at home to help their children.

A case-carrier – the special education teacher who is in charge of the students' IEPs, accommodation/modification procedures, and go-between the students and the teachers – needs to consult with parents on a regular basis. This can be done through weekly progress reports, which can be mailed home, or personally delivered by the students to their parents. Also, the case-carrier can call for impromptu meetings when certain issues arise.

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Consultation is not limited to being a liaison between the case-carrier, parents, and students. It can be a professional relationship between any teacher, counselor, or school psychologist. These professionals need to form relationships with the parents, too. It's not uncommon for them to address the children's educational needs and goals without the presence of the case-carrier.


Collaboration is increasingly becoming a common term used among special educators. In fact, many college programs specializing in training future teachers (general and special) have courses dedicated to the subject.

To explain it succinctly, collaboration is the professional relationship of all the stakeholders involved in the students' education. This includes the special and/or general education teachers, specialists, administrators, councilors, and the parents.

Simply put, dialogue between educators and parents is essential. Here, parents can give some indication of how their children learn, and educators can let parents know about classwork, habits, and educational opportunities the parents may not have been aware of.

Consultation is not limited to being a liaison between the case-carrier, parents, and student.

Being Involved in the Student’s Academics

Getting parents to be involved in their children's education can go beyond collaboration. One way they can be a part of the process is by setting aside time to help their children with their academics. This may entail the tasks to help them with homework and/or help them hone their learning skills through educational activities. The practices can be anything from reading aloud with the student, supplying journals for them, and assisting with solving complex problems.

Often overlooked -- yet critical to the student’s success -- is the establishment of a good role model. This is something parents can do. Students are impressionable, and if they see their parents doing something academic (such as taking the time to read a book, write, or build things) they will learn to do the same thing.

Students are impressionable

Students are impressionable

Help them Organize

There's a another simple step parents can take; they can supply the students with essential educational tools for school. Often, students with special needs will have issues with attention or organization. They may forget an assignment, or homework, or have scant school supplies of pencils or paper. Also, they may have a difficult time organizing their backpacks or folders.

Simply put, a parent can help their children prepare for school by helping them organize. Also, they can help them by supplying the materials needed for school.

At the end of the day, the students will be at home with their parents.

Final Thought

There are several things parents can do to help the advancement of their special-needs children. In many cases, the disabilities will constitute the type of support a parent can give. That's something that parents -- whether they were prepared to have special needs children or not -- have to educate themselves to understand. Special education teachers and other specialists in this field can do so much.

At the end of the day, the students will be at home with their parents. It's there that parents can become fully involved in their children's education and well-being

Still, by showing care and understanding, students with disabilities can prosper under well-informed and caring parents.

Being aware is important

Being aware is important

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Dean Traylor

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