Jenna Gehrdes is a member of the Community Outreach team at Cerebral Palsy Guide. The organization provides free educational information, financial options and emotional support for parents and children affected by cerebral palsy.

Whether this is your child’s first year or fifth, it’s important to make sure your child is getting the education and care he/she needs.

Going back to school can be stressful enough just making sure your child has the correct supplies and has completed his/her summer reading. There can be added stressors when you are the parent of a child with cerebral palsy (CP).

Here are a few tips and tricks to make sure your child is prepared for a fun, safe and successful school year!

1. Communicate with Your Child’s Teacher and Counselors

Communication between parents and teachers is very important, but it is even more crucial when you have a child with special needs. You should be ready to meet with teachers about special accommodations that your child may need in the classroom. Though children are encouraged to be independent in their classrooms, some children with CP may find this independence harder to reach. It’s important to tell teachers about physical tasks or situations that your child may need help with, such as:

• Changing of chair positions if and when necessary
• Planning for bathroom trips
• Assisting with eating and drinking
• Epileptic seizures

When you first sit down with your child’s teacher and principal, you’ll put together an Individualized Education Program (IEP). If your child is receiving special education services, this is required by law. An IEP lays out your child’s specific learning needs, their strengths and weaknesses and practical ways that they can succeed in school. The IEP will also include educational goals, modifications and accommodations that the school is providing, and transition planning that can prepare your child for higher education.

Your child’s teacher should also know about any communication difficulties your child has, including speech disorders. Teachers need to know that cerebral palsy may affect the muscles of the mouth, making it difficult for the student to speak.

Children may also benefit from therapy during the school day. Occupational, physical and speech therapists may be available through your child’s school. Sit down with the school counselors and principal to see if these options are available.

2. Inclusion in the Classroom

Inclusion is a term that professionals use to describe the acceptance of students with disabilities within a classroom setting. Inclusion prevents a child with disabilities from feeling left out or not receiving the full educational experience they are entitled to.

The teacher should know your child is capable of participating in class, and you can ask them to include your child in classroom activities. The teacher should call on and engage your child while in the classroom. Some children with cerebral palsy may need encouragement and/or modifications to help them participate.

Children with special needs can absolutely benefit from being in a classroom with children who do not have special needs. According to Educational World, inclusion can:

• Improve learning for children with and without disabilities. Teachers are more likely to break down or repeat instructions, which can make the lesson easier for children of all abilities to understand.
• Help children understand and accept differences. Children in a mixed classroom can learn to understand and accept differences among their peers, as well as make friends with those who are different than them.
• Aid in helping children develop new friendships. Whether your child has a disability or not, fostering friendships in the classroom is a staple experience in going to school.

Children with disabilities are legally entitled to a standard education obtained in a non-restricted environment. Teachers involve and engage with children of all abilities during classroom lessons. Children with cerebral palsy can do just as much as children without special needs, they just may do it in a different way!

3. Using Assistive Technology in the Classroom and at Home

There are different types of technology that can help children with disabilities, specifically those with cerebral palsy. Assistive technology is any piece of equipment that can maintain or increase the abilities of someone with a disability.

Children with CP can benefit from adaptive vehicles and mobility equipment (like wheelchairs or gait trainers) as well as communication devices, computer software, adaptive writing tools, art supplies and mealtime aids. Depending on the school district and the severity of your child’s CP, schools may cover the cost of these devices. The use of assistive technology in the classroom and at home will help your child to:

• Develop and improve handwriting and presentation
• Expand reading and number skills
• Gain valuable organizational skills

Some children with cerebral palsy have speech problems due to muscle spasms that affect their mouth, tongue and throat. These children may benefit from communication devices tailored to fit their specific needs. These devices give children the opportunity to communicate in their own way, whether it be through pictures, signs, letters, or even an automated voice that speaks for them. These devices and pieces of equipment will strengthen your child’s ability as well as their desire to learn.

Before the school year begins, make sure you and your child are prepared to head back into the classroom. By staying in close contact with your child’s teacher, working with your child at home, and making sure they are equipped with everything they need, you can rest assured that your child can succeed this school year.

The most important tip we can leave you with is this: Don’t be afraid to talk to your child’s teacher, principal or school counselors about the care or environment that your child is experiencing if you are unhappy. In order to have a successful school year, guidelines need to be followed in their entirety. Whether you are concerned with the mobility around the classroom or your child’s inclusion in everyday classroom activities, children with special needs are capable and deserve to have the same education as their classmates!

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