If your child needs to see a speech therapist, there are a ton of great resources to help you through the process. Teachers, pediatricians, ASHA, and the all-knowing Google can guide you through the basics: from what’s an SLP to how to do I understand my IEP? But, there are times when you just want to hear about the experience from another parent. How did they react to the idea of speech therapy? How do they find the time for it? What is Speech Therapy like? What did their other kids think about their big brother having special appointments? Did they ever get a hang of all the acronyms? How do other families go from “I think we need to see someone” to “Speech therapy, yup, that’s a regular part of our family life.”
This question, and its associated anxiety, can dawn on any parent at any stage in their child’s development. In fact, approximately 10% of school-age children in the United States are living with some form of a communication challenge. Even though communication challenges are quite common, it can be difficult and confusing to navigate the journey from the first moment of concern to a child finally receiving the appropriate services. This guide aims to provide you with some of the very first steps about whom, besides yourself, shares responsibility for setting your child on track for success — especially when you’re realizing, “I think my child needs speech therapy!”
If your child qualifies for free help in the special education program under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), he will have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This written document spells out the specific services to which he is entitled in school. The IEP team is required to review the IEP annually to determine if it still suits his needs. If it does not, the document will be modified. However, if you believe that your child’s IEP no longer suits his needs prior to the annual meeting, you can request an IEP meeting at any time. It’s a good idea to periodically look over the IEP to refresh your memory and decide if a change is in order. Mark your calendar every few months to remind you to review the IEP. The back-to-school season is one good time to do it.
The back-to-school season is an exciting time for families, whether your child is boarding the school bus for the first time or he is a returning student. Your child’s teachers and the other members of the school staff are responsible for more than just his education and feeding him a healthy lunch while he’s at school. They are also responsible for identifying the possible signs of a speech disorder or other issue, such as autism or Fragile X syndrome. Your child’s teacher or his pediatrician might refer him to the agency that is responsible for special education in your state. This referral means that it is recommended that your child undergo a speech and language evaluation. You do have the right to refuse, but if your child does need extra help, an evaluation is the first step in that direction.
It’s easy for parents and educators alike to get lost in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process and the numerous Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) regulations. In an IEP meeting stuffed full of lawyers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, educators, and administrators, where exactly does your child fit in? Sure, the entire meeting is about his speech disorder and particular needs, but in a sea of acronyms (ESY, FAPE, S/LI, and TSS, to name just a few) it can be easy for the IEP team to forget that there is an actual child at the heart of all that jargon. No one knows your child and his speech therapy needs better than you and your partner. You’ve looked after his health from conception onward and made sure he had everything from healthy foods to speech therapy tools. So when it’s time to advocate for him in an IEP meeting and elsewhere at school, make sure that the people who are discussing his education actually know who he is.