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Five School Trouble Spots to Stay on Top Of

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Getting your child an appropriate educational program is hard enough:

But even if you've dotted every "i" and crossed every "t" on the IEP, or chatted up every teacher on your child's strengths and weaknesses, there will still be times during the school day when all those helps fall down a hole. Periods like recess and lunch and gym and locales like restrooms and buses are hard for most schoolkids -- there are volumes of children's literature devoted to them. But for kids with special needs, those youthful rites of passage can be downright dangerous.

For each trouble spot, you'll want to ask these questions:

  1. Where does my child do this activity?
  2. How long does it last?
  3. Which other students are there with my child?
  4. What supervision is provided?
  5. How structured is this activity?
  6. Who resolves disputes?
  7. What happens if my child misbehaves?
  8. Are any special-education personnel with my child?
  9. Is anyone able to adapt activities so that my child can participate?
  10. Who can my child ask for help?

Trouble Spot #1 - Recess:

Recess is a danger zone for plenty of kids -- it's highly unstructured and unsupervised by design, and the law of the jungle often takes over. Your child will be particularly vulnerable if he or she requires structure and supervision, has trouble with social contacts or physical activities, tires easily, or is affected by temperatures and air quality. If there are problems, ask the school to assign an aide or a student buddy who can make recess safe and successful for your child.

Trouble Spot #2 - Lunch:

Schools are cutting lunchtimes short to make sure kids only have time for eating, but lunchrooms can still be havens of hurtful and unhealthful activity. Your child will be particularly vulnerable if he or she has special dietary needs, health problems that require mealtime accommodations, a need for structure and supervision, or trouble with social contacts. If there are problems, ask the school to assign an aide for supervision or assistance.

Trouble Spot #3 - Gym:

Physical education is an unforgiving subject for children who, whether due to gross motor problems, sensory integration dysfunction, or health issues can't get with the athletic program. Your child will be particularly vulnerable if he or she has physical limitations, needs supervision, overreacts to noise, or has a poor sense of pain and danger. If there are problems, ask if your school has Adapted Physical Education to provide an appropriate program, or if an aide can give needed help.

Trouble Spot #4 - Restrooms:

Whether your child is tormented by classmates, makes a mess himself, or just gets too distracted to emerge on time, those little rest stops can mean big trouble. Your child will be particularly vulnerable if he or she needs help or supervision, makes inappropriate social contacts, or is easily led. If there are problems, ask to have your child use the restroom in the nurse's office instead of the public restroom. This will provide for discrete supervision and assistance as needed.

Trouble Spot #5 - Buses:

Even those little special-ed buses are often inadequately supervised. But if your child has to ride the big bus with regular-education kids, there's a real risk of abuse. Your child will be particularly vulnerable if he or she has health or developmental issues that attract attention, needs constant supervision, is overstimulated by loud noises, or makes inappropriate social contacts. If there are problems, ask the district to provide a safer ride -- or pay you to drive your child yourself. Ask these 12 questions to get some answers.

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