At this point in the school year, things are most likely in full swing for your child — for better or for worse. If things aren’t going well, you may still need to align with school staff to create an effective IEP (individual education plan) for your child. Just like many of your friends, family, and even mental health professionals, many teachers and other educators don’t really understand reactive attachment disorder. Once again, it’s on your shoulders to take the lead and attempt to let others know what your child needs.
To get your child’s school staff to work with you in regard to your child’s IEP, you’ll need to develop a relationship with them. The better the relationships you have, the more cooperation you’ll get. Here’s what you need to understand first and foremost—
- Understand that you are the expert on your child. Many parents rely on the school staff to have the knowledge to best serve their children. While school professionals may have expertise in regard to education in general, they are not experts about your unique child and reactive attachment disorder.
Our neurotherapist Shelli Myles, also a mom of adopted children with RAD, shares her story:
“I adopted my daughter from Ukraine and she started 1st grade in the United States when she was 7-years-old. She had only been in the U.S. for a couple weeks and her school staff focused on her as an English as a second language student. Yet, she was not hearing Ukrainian at all at home with me. We continued on this path for six months and I begin to question why her English had not improved. The school would tell me she was meeting the criteria set for English as a second language student. Since I had a business in international adoption, I knew she was not sufficiently learning the language with the amount of time she had been here. I kept asking them until I finally had to go in and demand that they test my daughter and provide an IEP that was appropriate for her major learning disability due to fetal alcohol syndrome. It took demanding them to test her before they finally complied with my multiple requests. Upon testing her IQ was 54 and in need of completely different services than they had been providing.”
You and, perhaps your spouse, are your child’s best, and probably only, advocates. The sad truth is that most people don’t understand RAD and may blame you for your child’s troubles. The best thing to remember is that you’re not alone in that regard. So many parents deal with the same situation. Try to stay calm and not take it personally. By no means is this an easy feat. However, it’ll make a big difference in how far your efforts can go and how much school professionals will begin to listen.
Here are 10 tips as you work on getting an effective IEP for your child with RAD:
- Find someone to advocate for you (i.e., organizations like The Arc). While you are the expert and advocate on behalf of your child, you need your own advocate. You probably won’t understand how the school system works in regard to IEPs, meetings, etc. Bring along someone who does. That person can help you understand if the school staff wrote the IEP correctly or not, when documents should have updates, etc. School staff members are overworked and spread thin. Even with the best of intentions, they may miss something.
- Think outside the box about accommodations that you think will work for your child. You know what your child specifically needs. If you think of something that might work for him, suggest it. It could be a quiet room for testing without distractions, a decrease in assignment sizes, daily check-ins with the social worker or school psychologist, additional teacher assistance in all of his classes, etc.
- Realize that you will need to be the teacher’s teacher. Teachers have a lot of students to educate and very little, if any, information about reactive attachment disorder. Many school districts don’t provide sufficient training about RAD. Work alongside teachers to help them understand the disorder and give them specific ways to work with your child.
- You need to know, and educate others, that RAD is a preexisting condition. Your child deserves services. Period. Even if your district doesn’t have the professionals necessary within your school, the district is required to find and pay for them elsewhere. In addition, let school staff know that some children with RAD don’t act out in school but to communicate with you if they do indeed see behaviors.
- Persistence and patience is key. To put together the right plan for your child probably won’t happen quickly. It takes a while to get it just right. However, don’t give up.
- Politely insist on the right classifications for your child moving forward with their IEP. While an incorrect classification may not harm your child, it won’t help either.
- Yet…persist to get the most services as possible for your child. Take all the appropriate help you can get. Don’t worry about labels whether they fall under emotional, cognitive, etc. Once your child gets established with his IEP, you can work with the school staff to get amendments as you learn what works or not for your child.
- Get a safety and behavior management plan along with the IEP. Kids with RAD need the trifecta. To ensure safety and help manage behavior, children with RAD often need measures such as to eat their lunches with their teachers and to be escorted on and off the school bus.
- Know that you can request a review of plans before the next meeting if need be. Your child’s IEP needs to be thorough. An accurate diagnosis is needed and if more than one is warranted, it is to your child’s benefit to have it listed.
- Know that an IEP can travel with your child. You can work with school district staff to develop a transition plan. That way, the hard work everyone put into the plan will follow your child to different schools, even college when applicable.
To work with your child’s school staff can give you an overwhelmed and hopeless feeling—it’s just one more battle to take on. Yet, we urge you to use these tips and move forward. The more people you can get to align with you in regard to your child in any capacity, the greater your child’s chance for success.
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