Does your son know if he has an IEP or a 504 Plan? Can your daughter explain to her teacher why her learning difficulties require accommodations? Has your 14 year old read his IEP?
Clearly, the age of your child and the nature of their learning problem will determine when and whether he or she should know this information. But we have encountered students about to begin college who really don't understand their own learning issues and haven't had to advocate for their own learning needs or special accommodations. We believe that every family with a student who has learning differences needs to commit to educating their child about his learning style, understanding his strengths and weaknesses, and knowing the strategies that he requires to succeed in the classroom.
Even in elementary school, students should be able to describe their strengths and interests: "I'm really good at math and I like music alot!" They should also be aware of where they struggle and what strategies they need to do to deal with their areas of weakness: "Sometimes I have problems paying attention in class. I do better when I sit in the front of the room and I sometimes have to get up and walk in the back of the classroom to help me stay focused. "
By middle school, most students should be encouraged to attend their IEP or 504 Team meeting. They can offer their own view on what works for them and what doesn't and raise concerns that their parents and teachers might not consider, such as the social impact of pull-out services or the difficulty they are having getting to their locker. We know that it is often hard for parents to sit through these meetings and hear their child talked about in terms of diagnoses and scores. But for many students, having a chance to participate in planning their own school lives is an important benefit.
High school students should be practicing their advocacy skills. Those who will be moving on to college will not have mom or dad to arrange for test accommodations or to intercede with their professors. They should be encouraged to meet with their teachers and to take the first steps to raise questions and concerns about their IEPs, accommodations, and future plans. By being given a chance to handle many issues on their own, they will be better equipped to move on to college, and then the workplace, as an effective advocate for their own needs, and with a clear sense of what they need to be successful.