A Few Tips for Parents of Special Needs Children

You might imagine the parental pride I felt when my son, was able to tell me the names of shapes, including that of an octagon, when he was about 18 months old.  By the time he was two and a half, he was reading, and that pride swelled even more.  To new parents like my wife, Kelly and I, we just thought we had a talented genius on our hands.

It wasn’t until he had experienced the daily grind of an all-day preschool program that we realized that there was something else going on.  It was then that his preschool advised us to have him tested to see if he fell on the Autism Spectrum.  The diagnosis came back as Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism that allows a child to excel at academics, but struggle in social aspects.

Before he entered Kindergarten, we assessed our options to see which learning environment would suit him best.  Ultimately, we chose to place him in a traditional public school, and I do not regret that choice for a moment because the professional faculty and staff of Cherokee County School District have changed my son in ways that are laying a positive foundation for his future. 

However, while on the campaign trail last summer, I ran into several families with stories just like ours but with different results.  These families were struggling within the public school system and asked me if there was anything that could be done for their child.  To a person, when I mentioned the Special Needs Scholarship, they had never heard of it before.

The Georgia Special Needs Scholarship was created by Senate Bill 10 in 2007 with the intent of giving students with special needs a voucher to attend a private school under certain conditions or to transfer to different public school.  The following is a list of requirements for new students to qualify for the program:

• The parent or guardian of the child must be a current Georgia Resident and have lived here for at least one year.
• The child must have attended the entire previous school year in a Georgia Public School.
• The student was included in mandatory student counts (enrolled) in both October and March of the previous school year.
• At some point during the previous school year, the student must have received some special needs education services under an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) during one of the mandatory counts listed above.

One thing to be aware of, a proper diagnosis is critical to receiving the voucher under the Special Needs Scholarship Program.  If your child is Autistic, for example, but your child’s IEP lists them as having a Developmental Delay, they will not qualify for the program.  In this regard, it is vital that you advocate for your child to have an accurate diagnosis during your regular IEP meetings.  Do not be afraid of a label, it will only help to have an accurate description of why your child requires an IEP. Taking this path may be slightly more time consuming as there will be additional hoops to jump through, but a few weeks of getting it right will pay benefit in the long run.  Do not feel rushed during the IEP process; your child will still be able to receive services while the appropriate diagnosis is in the works.

At this point, I think it is important to share the Cherokee County School District’s point of view regarding the program.  In preparing to write this column, I reached out to Barbara Jacoby, Director, Public Information, Communications and Partnerships for the Cherokee County School District.  She had this to say: “The Cherokee County School District has repeatedly earned State and National recognition for its Special Education staff and services, and our Response to Intervention program is considered a best practices model in Georgia.  However, for parents who choose a different environment that they believe may better fit their child’s needs, the State scholarship program provides an avenue for assistance.  Information about the program is provided by the School District to parents at the beginning of every school year as part of the CCSD Student/Parent Handbook.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

To find out more information about the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship, you can go to this website. If you find the process of navigating the program difficult and need assistance, please reach out to me and I will try to help any way I can.

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