Donna Landsman, M.S.
Managing the educational maze can be one of the most frustrating aspects of raising a child with special needs. In the U.S., federal and state laws regulate what school districts are obligated to do, even though shrinking school budgets make it difficult to provide students with maximal levels of service. Schools will often opt for the least expensive alternative, even though it may not be the “best” program. However, parents who are educated regarding the unique needs of children with VCFS, the laws which protect them, and the educational programs which are effective can succeed in increasing the assistance given their child.
Children with VCFS can learn and improve their school performance, but parents must be informed advocates for their child’s right to an appropriate education.
When parents first learn of the diagnosis of VCFS in their child, they may struggle with the notion of informing the school. They may feel that their child will be stigmatized or even be the target of some form of discrimination. They might also fear the loss of friendships, the effects of poor achievement, and low self-esteem. However, withholding the information may prevent the child from receiving the services mandated by law, and the school is relieved from the responsibility to provide a “tailored” education or special accommodations.
Most children with VCFS will qualify for special education services because of their speech and language impairments. Many will also qualify under the “Other Health Impaired” category because of hearing loss, heart anomalies, hypotonia, attention deficit disorder, and other physical and behavioral problems. Once a student has qualified for special education services, schools are required to make modifications, provide therapy, assistive technology, and accommodations to help the student to succeed. In addition, the special education teachers will provide a bridge for the parents to work with the classroom teacher to modify or clarify assignments, provide special materials and help with the transition to a work environment or a higher education setting. Most teachers will try their best to understand VCFS, if provided information about it, therefore providing a nurturing environment for providing assistance.
There are many accommodations which may be useful for children with VCFS which can be included in their Individual Education Program (IEP), including:
- A quiet work environment.
- An assignment notebook to keep track of work.
- Instruction in keyboarding and access to a computer for written work.
- Providing books on tape, including textbooks in science and social studies.
- Test modifications (untimed, tests on tape or read to the student, clarifying directions).
- Preferential seating.
- Study guides for tests.
- Training and helpwith problem solving in social settings.
- Direct instruction in the academic areas with an emphasis on incremental skill building and massed practice.
Many children with VCFS can be successful in a regular classroom with modifications and assistance. Educating all of your child’s teachers (including art, music, physical education, etc.) about your child’s needs will help achieve a school experience that is positive and productive. While schools can offer help, parents must play a primary role in keeping the child “on track.” Some suggestions follow:
- Be positive, but firm in expectations (completion of work, making the best effort)
- Study for tests with your child in short periods over several days.
- Arrange regular contact with teachers.
- Check daily with your child about assignments, due dates, and class requirements.
- Help your child gather materials and re-explain concepts.
- Enroll your child in a supplemental educational program to reinforce
- Be realistic about the limitations of children with VCFS and reward their best effort. Explain difficulties within the context of a medical problem, not as a lack of ability.
- Trust your instincts. You are an expert on your child and understand his/her needs. Do not be intimidated. Do not feel that you are forced to accept placements that you feel are wrong. Seek alternatives.
We can all learn from each other’s experiences. Sharing our successes and failures will help us understand VCFS and assist in developing strategies to help our children.
Donna Landsman is a teacher in Madison, Wisconsin, and the parent of a child with VCFS.