• Finding A Special School

    From Recognizing Early Signs Of Developmental Delays To Deciding Between Public And Private Institutions, Author And Educator Laurie Dubos Offers Advice For Navigating The Landscape of Special Needs Education In New York City

    By Rachael Horowitz

    For New York City parents,
    navigating a school system that serves more than a million children can be
    complicated and overwhelming. For parents of a child with special needs, the
    process is even more daunting, with a host of different options to consider, acronyms
    to become familiar with (like
    CSE, Committee on Special
    Education
    ; IEPS, Individualized Education Plans and NPS, nonpublic schools, to name a few)
    and many decisions to make along the way. To help parents better understand the
    special education landscape in the city, we spoke with Laurie Dubos, co-author
    of “
    A Parent’s Guide To Special
    Education in New York City and the Metropolitan Area
    .” Dubos, who has
    worked in the field of special education for over 30 years, shares how a
    child’s interest in play can indicate developmental delays, what parents should
    consider first and what kinds of schools may be the best fit for their child.

    What are some early signs that a child
    might have a learning disability or developmental delay?

    Depending upon the child and the
    disability, it can manifest itself from birth. You have some children who you
    automatically know are going to need special services, such as a child with
    Down syndrome or a child who has cerebral palsy. Signs that a child has autism,
    however, may not manifest themselves before the child is two years old. The
    first indication is often the lack of language. If a child is not speaking by
    the age of two, or he’s not using simple sentences, that’s a clear delay for
    most children. There are other criteria such as eye contact, hand slapping or
    twirling that are associated with autism. But with children who might be on the
    autism spectrum who are very mild, you might not catch them until later.

    Along with language, you have play skills. A red flag would be if a child needs
    an adult to help them play, or a child with no interest in playing with other
    kids. Language and play often go together. Children can’t play if they don’t
    have the language of their peers.

    What should parents do if they suspect
    their child might have a learning disability?

    I think parents know their children best.
    It doesn’t hurt to bring your child to your pediatrician or a specialist. Even
    if it comes out that they don’t have a disability, it helps parents to
    alleviate those fears. There are too many parents out there who think, “If only
    I had done something earlier.” When the child is the first born, young parents
    really don’t know what to expect. They don’t have an understanding of child
    development. They don’t know what a two-year-old is supposed to be doing or
    what an 18-month-old is supposed to be doing. Often times a parent will say,
    “Once I had my second child I realized how delayed my first child was.”

    What’s the next step for parents after a
    child is diagnosed with a learning disorder or a disability?

    The next step would be to contact the
    school district to make a referral for their child to be evaluated, and these
    evaluations are free. Some parents will go the private school route, but if
    they’re looking for funding, you have to go through the public school first.

    What’s most important to look at when
    considering a public school?

    You want to see what kinds of programs are
    available for the child. Most neighborhood schools have a resource room where
    children spend part of their day with a special educator. I would look for very
    good scores in terms of students’ achievement, as well as the experience of the
    teachers and how long they’ve been a part of that community.

    What happens when there isn’t a public school that meets the needs of a
    child?

    Parents can go through due process. There
    are enough non-public schools (NPS) who work closely with the Department of
    Education when they can’t provide an appropriate education in the community
    public schools. These private schools are licensed by the state and the
    Department of Education and can provide tuition and place children in those
    schools.

    Is that a difficult process?

    It becomes contentious if the Department of Education believes that they
    have a place to send the child and the parent disagrees. If the DOE feels
    strongly that they can provide a free, appropriate education for a student and
    the parents are insistent on a private school, it can be very difficult, and
    often parents will have to obtain some kind of legal representation. Most of
    the parents I’ve worked with had children with complicated learning issues.
    Most of them have gotten in [to the private school] but it takes someone who
    really can advocate for their child and understands the system.

    So parents should go through the process before looking into an NPS?

    The problem if you do that is that there
    often times won’t be a place for the child at the [private] school. Parents
    should look into private schools and at the same time start the process of
    working with the DOE to determine whether they do have a program that is
    appropriate for their child. If parents really believe their child belongs in a
    private school setting, I recommend they do that simultaneously, because if
    they wait until they finish the process with the DOE, there often will not be
    openings in that school.

    What should parents consider when choosing a private school?

    Look at the kind of curriculum they use.
    Most of the schools are trying to use similar curriculum that other schools are
    using so that a child doesn’t miss out for their grade and age level. Look to
    make sure that children at the school have similar learning issues as your
    child. Also, in the book, we talked about the fact that it’s not just a place
    for the child, but it’s a place for the family.

    What’s the most important piece of advice
    you have for parents who are navigating the special needs arena?

    Educate yourself. Resources for Children
    with Special Needs (
    resourcesnyc.org) is a wonderful
    agency that offers a lot of workshops and trainings. Go out and visit the
    schools—public and private—so you’re aware of what’s available for your child.
    There are also lots of ways to connect with other parents online; try to connect
    to those who are working with the school system and who are working within the
    area you’re most interested in. I’d recommend that parents get involved so they
    don’t feel so isolated.

    Laurie Dubos is co-author of “A Parent’s Guide To Special
    Education in New York City and the Metropolitan Area
    .”

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