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Parents can set their child up for success by providing all relevant information about their child (e.g. medical conditions, testing or evaluations done by outside professionals, significant changes in a family situation, etc.) to the school team. If a parent thinks their child may be experiencing difficulty, the first step is to address the concern at the school level with the child’s teachers, with the resource teacher who may be providing assistance, or with the school administrator. The school team is familiar with your child’s daily school experience. They are often the best resource to suggest specific types of intervention or follow-up with professionals, or if additional assessment of your child’s difficulties seems necessary.
All schools have a range of services and supports, varying according to local needs. School-based personnel may include resource teachers, special education technicians and attendants, literacy initiative teachers, special education teachers in Learning Centres, and guidance staff. Professional services include speech and language therapists, psychologists, counselors in reeducation, a consultant for special needs, and other educational professionals. Preventative support programs for students at risk or those with identified difficulties include Homework Assistance programs, mentoring programs, social skills programs, the use of adaptive technology, and many more. The school administrator can provide you with information about the available supports in your child’s school.
Not all children experiencing difficulty need a professional assessment. The progress of all students is continually monitored by classroom and/or resource teachers. These ongoing evaluations help determine a student’s individual progress and plan appropriate instruction. At times teachers may refer a student through an Ad Hoc meeting of the school team for assessment by a professional. Psychologists and speech therapists carry out psycho-educational consultations and assessments to determine the nature of a child’s difficulties and make recommendations to the family and teachers on how best to address the difficulties. An Individualized Education Plan (IEP), further assessment by a medical professional, or accessing outside services may be suggested. Parents are asked by the administrator for signed consent before professional assessment takes place. When the assessment is complete, parents are invited to a meeting at the school, where the professional reviews the assessment results and the recommendations with all concerned.
The Minister of Education, Leisure and Sports (MELS) defines students with special needs as both those with the challenges of Learning Difficulties (LD) or Behavioural Difficulties (BD), and those with more serious difficulties, such as physical, developmental, emotional, or cognitive disabilities, resulting in a MELS special needs identification. All special needs identification requires an Ad Hoc meeting of the school team, an assessment confirming the student meets the MELS criteria, and parents’ consent. More serious disabilities often require testing by medical professionals. Special needs identification, or “coding,” can only take place when, along with a diagnosis, a student is not able to achieve minimal cycle competencies or has serious difficulty functioning in the classroom. Special needs identification may also occur when a child enters the school system and parents provide assessment reports indicating a significant disability such as autism, intellectual delay, etc., which will evidently interfere with the child’s learning.
All students with identified special needs have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This is a flexible working document which helps the school and parents plan for and monitor the student’s individual needs and progress. The IEP includes goals, strategies, individual progress, who is involved in implementing the IEP, and a record of communication with parents. Generally IEPs are developed in the first three months of the school year, but can be developed at any time. Parents are asked to sign to indicate their agreement with the plan and they are given a copy. Towards the end of the school year, teachers note a student’s progress on the goals and provide this information to parents. As per the Education Act, the administrator is responsible for ensuring there are IEPs for all students with special needs. However the development and implementation of the IEP is a team approach and involves teachers, parents, in some instances support staff and professionals, and the student where appropriate.