My first online assignment for LATS was to read the Edge and Davis PowerPoint which is about the "Inclusion of parents and families of children with disabilities in the educational process" when evaluating a student for assistive technology. The presentation emphasizes that family involvement is key in developing a child's educational program. I would agree.
In the PowerPoint it states that children perform better, both academically and socially, if parents are actively involved in their child's education (Henderson, 1987). As we've all heard before, a parent is a child's first teacher. I believe that parents are a child's first co-teachers. Yet, no matter how well those parents understand their child, they are often challenged with the knowledge needed to navigate through the classification/re-evaluation process when they have a student with special needs.
To reduce the impact of this problem, educators should try to act as consultants to the parents of a child with a disability and make themselves available to the parents as they need information, guidance and support. In addition to this, I also think that teachers should be consultants to the children.
During our parent-teacher conferences this month, we opened up our meetings to include all of the students in our inclusion classroom. For many of the kids, this was their first time being included in the process as we reviewed their report card with mom and dad. During the conference, we asked the students to talk about their strengths and weaknesses and how WE, their team of parents and teachers, could help them to be more successful. For some kids, we referred to this process as Extreme [Insert Student Name Here] Makeover. Less formal than an invite to CSE/IEP meeting, our ten year old kids were originally a little stressed, but later reflected that this was a positive experience. At the conclusion of each meeting, each student and their family came away with a plan for success for the rest of the school year.
With regards to assistive technology evaluations and services, service providers need to continue to be consultants to the students and their families throughout the year. Both the children and their parents are going to need training and support in order to use assistive technology to it's potential. Often, this consultant role means the educator will have to learn more about the children, their families and their needs through a variety of communication methods including: face to face conversations, handwritten notes, telephone calls or via e-mail. In our classroom, you could also learn more about students via their blogs and podcasts.
No matter what you choose to connect with families, just realize that these relationships are like dances. For each family and even the individuals within that family it will take a little bit to get in sync in order to determine each person's unique needs. The book, Do You Hear what I Hear?: Parents and Professionals Working Together for Children with Special Needs by Janice Fialka and Karen C. Mikus is a great resource for a service provider looking to improve in this area.