Written by: Holly Peterson
Let's start with babies... you may have concerns with your infant or toddler's development, you can't quite pinpoint what it is, but you are just concerned. You have talked to your doctor and they told you to wait a little while "because all children develop a little differently at their own rate". This isn't yet settling to you because this is YOUR child and you want them to excel! It's a pretty easy answer~ all you have to do is contact Early On by calling 1-800-327-5966. They can talk to you about your concerns and offer free evaluations.
Now, let's say your child is in elementary school and you have concerns about his/her ability to keep up with other students. Maybe your child has Cerebral Palsy, ADD or ADHD and focus is a big concern in their learning. There is a way to ask for help and to have assistance in a "formal plan" for their education..... This could happen with an IEP (Individual Education Plan) or a 504 Plan. First, an evaluation must be requested. In order to learn about his process ~ you can call us at disAbility Connections or contact Michigan Alliance for Families ~ michiganallianceforfamilies.org They have a most wonderful website full of information AND there is also a local parent mentor who can help you. I can't recommend this resource enough!
Next, let's assume your child has a 504 Plan or an IEP providing the extra needed services already. Be sure that you understand how to make the most of that plan to best fit your child! We as parents need to educate ourselves so that we can best advocate for our child! We need to know how those supports will look as we transition from one classroom to several. Some special education settings and some inclusion classroom settings. Be sure you have a clear understanding of the "diploma" track or "certificate of completion" track. Some students qualify for services to the age of 26 in Michigan while others do not. Be sure you know the options.
Graduation...this can be a scary process! This is something that you need to plan for far before 12th grade! Students with an IEP or 504 Plan may qualify for other community resources. They could come through providers like disAbility Connections, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Kit Young's ~ Young Adult Program Lifeways, or others. I am sorry to tell you that if you don't know about them ...you may not be told about them! Let me repeat... EDUCATE yourself!
College, trade programs, and even volunteering can be your next level getting you closer to employment. Maybe college isn't for you, but getting work experience through employment or volunteering will be your "education". Showing employers that you are reliable, willing to learn, and work to your abilities is what will get you closer to paid employment in the end.
Transition to "adulthood" is huge for both students and parents! I can NOT stress enough that you can contact me or other individuals in the know! Jackson County ISD contracts with me to work with families on these issues including guardianship, community resources, SSI, trusts, CHORE services, food benefits, respite, social programs, and job coaching to name a few. Typically I will meet with a family a few times to go over all that is available that fits the student, adult, and their needs. I can help direct and get you enrolled with LIFEWAYS, DHHS, SSI, and more. We will also talk about the future, what plans are for housing, living supports, finances, and more. As a parent of an adult child with special needs, I understand these programs and services first hand.
There are additional programs through disAbility Connections that work with local students to build on work and self-help skills.