If your child is struggling in school, it may be time to get some help.

When kids need extra help at school, they may be placed in a special education program. Although the information given in the following articles is based on the Ontario system, special education programs, the benefits and the pit-falls, are similar across Canada.

What does special education mean?

Sometimes kids can’t learn in a regular classroom for a variety of reasons. They could have a learning disability, a medical issue, ADHD, or communication disorder such as autism. Other students may be gifted and need more intellectual stimulation. A special education program is designed to help kids learn in a way that is tailored to their needs. This might include:

  • The use of different teaching strategies with your child in a regular classroom.
  • An educational assistant in a regular classroom dedicated to your child for part of the day or the entire day.
  • Your child could be placed in a regular classroom and then withdrawn from the classroom for part of the day to have dedicated time with a special education teacher.
  • Your child could be placed in a separate special education classroom with other children with similar needs for part of the day or the entire day.
  • Your child may be placed in a special education school.

How can I tell my child has a problem?

Here are some tips:

  • Dr. Norm Forman, educational psychologist and author of Exceptional Children—Ordinary Schools says that sometimes problems are hard to spot because lots of children exhibit certain behaviours some of the time. “The three words that come to mind are degree, frequency and intensity,” he says. “If the degree is quite involved, it happens on a regular basis, and the intensity is quite aggravated, you have to raise the question about whether this falls into a ‘normal’ situation you would expect.”
  • Do you have an intuitive or ‘gut’ feeling that something is wrong? If you do, trust it and get help.
  • Do not assume your child is going to outgrow it. They may or they may not but early intervention is important so get them assessed.
  • Psychologist and member of TVOParents.com advisory council Ester Cole says look to your other children. "Parents sometimes compare one child to their other children in terms of progress," she says. "So they might see that one of their children is not progressing the way the other ones did."
  • Ask people who know your child, like the daycare provider, teacher or caregiver, if they've noticed the same behaviour.
  • At the same time, don’t hesitate or listen to friends, relatives or even teachers if you suspect there is a problem. Often other people dismiss problems because they can’t read your child the way you can. Trust your instincts.
  • Do your research. Read through the symptoms like those listed on the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario web site. There are also many sites dedicated to autism or ADHD that list warning signs. If you have lots of check marks, it’s time to seek help.

What do I do if I think my child needs help?

  • Once you have your concerns written down and your check lists in hand, make contact with your doctor and get a referral to a developmental pediatrician or developmental neurologist (if needed).
  • Make an appointment with your province's preschool speech and language program to have your child's speech assessed.
  • Have your child's hearing tested.
  • Contact your school and request a meeting (called an IPRC) in writing.

Remember, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. Often due to cultural or familial stigmas we don’t want to admit there might be something wrong. But, in order to ensure that your child succeeds in school, it’s important to get them the help they need.

Want more?

Learn how to fight for what your child needs and how to get beyond the label. Also, learn how to navigate the school system.