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Special education is individualized education focused on helping children with special needs learn. The focus on understanding the needs of individuals and tailoring education plans to them is crucial for students with cerebral palsy, as the intellectual abilities of individuals with this condition can vary significantly.
Some children may be unaffected intellectually but face physical difficulties which impact their time in the classrooms, while others will have mild or significant intellectual impairment.
Access to quality education influences a child’s economic future, social and emotional development, and identity. Since special education recognizes individual differences and accommodates them, it is very important for helping children with cerebral palsy to achieve their potential in all these areas.
There are a number of options for parents and caregivers to choose from when they are deciding how to best go about the education of a child who has CP.
Public schools are publicly-funded schools that are required, by law, to educate every child in their community, including those with cerebral palsy. Public schools offer their services without charging parents tuition fees.
Public school teachers, administrators, academic standards and operating methods are subject to the intervention of public policy makers. Parents and other residents can also obtain information from public schools and become involved in their activities.
Alternatively, a child might attend a private school. These educational facilities are private businesses or non-profit organizations which offer full-time, comprehensive education to elementary, middle and high school students. They usually operate outside state education regulations and are accountable to students and their families.
Homeschooling is another option available to children with cerebral palsy. Homeschooling is formal education undertaken within the family home. Typically one or both parents teach their homeschooled child or children. Most U.S. states require parents to notify authorities of their intent to homeschool, teach predetermined subjects and conduct regular assessments.
As many as 20% of homeschooled children take some classes or extracurricular activities at their local public schools. Combining homeschooling with selected public school instruction may be a desirable educational option for some children with cerebral palsy.
Other educational options may also be complemented by tutoring. Tutoring helps students improve their learning outcomes and study strategies. Through tutoring, children learn from tutors with specialized knowledge in a particular topic area. Tutoring supports the education received via a public school, a private school or at home.
If you’d like your child with cerebral palsy to attend a public school, there are several more options to consider.
Full-inclusion public schools, also called inclusive public schools, are schools where students with disabilities are taught in classrooms alongside students without disabilities. This approach helps promote acceptance of difference and a respectful school environment.
Full-inclusion public schools work hard to address the individual needs of every student to ensure each child achieves. Teachers in full-inclusion public schools recognize that all students, whether they have special needs or not, are different from one another. They use various teaching methods to most effectively appeal to their students.
Self-contained classrooms are a relatively new concept. Where regular public school classrooms typically have 20 to 30 students, self-contained classrooms usually have between 5 and 10 students with special needs, overseen by a special education teacher and paraeducator.
Special education teachers working at public schools must meet strict guidelines imposed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and No Child Left Behind Law. These professionals can deliver one-on-one attention in the more intimate self-contained classroom environment. A self-contained classroom may have students with the same disability or a mixed group of students with various requirements. Self-contained classrooms help students feel more confident and aid creativity.
Under IDEA, children diagnosed with a disability can access special education and related services through the public school system. IDEA defines 13 eligible disability categories as follows:
Cerebral palsy typically falls under the eighth category of orthopedic impairment.
The IDEA services are available for children from 3 to 21 years of age. The Center for Parent Information and Resources suggests parents speak to their local public school to access these services.
Some private schools specialize in teaching students with disabilities and other specific educational requirements. However, others which do not offer such services may not offer the support a child with cerebral palsy needs. In some circumstances, private schools may even refuse admission to students with special needs. Parents wanting to send their child with cerebral palsy to a private school should research their options carefully.
Students could send their child with cerebral palsy to a conventional private school, alongside other students without disabilities, or a special education center, which caters specifically for students with disabilities. The United States has hundreds of special education centers specializing in various disabilities and learning impairments. These schools have small classes and will tailor individual programs to meet student needs.
Hiring standards vary from private school to private school, although teachers at special education centers are more likely to have comparable special education training to public school teachers. Special education centers employ credentialed and skilled teachers and paraprofessionals.
Private schools may also give students with disabilities special dispensation, like extra time during examinations or the use of assistive aids.
Whether your child attends a conventional private school or a special education center, your local public school district may pay for some special education services. However, funding for private school students with special needs is limited compared to public school students. As a result, children with cerebral palsy attending private schools usually receive fewer free services than their peers in public schools.
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education offers many reasons why parents may choose to homeschool their child with cerebral palsy. They might be motivated by a desire to:
Homeschooling can be an excellent option for children with special needs, including cerebral palsy. Homeschooling allows parents to tailor a program to their child’s abilities and deliver more focused instruction than traditional schooling.
Homeschooling allows children with special needs to learn at their own pace, without the pressure that can come with sharing a learning environment with other students. A homeschooling curriculum can also be tailored to your child’s interest, ensuring he or she stays engaged and builds self-esteem.
When parents homeschool, they take responsibility for their child’s education. However, this doesn’t mean they necessarily need to teach every subject to their child. If you do not feel confident teaching your child in some or all topics, but still feel you want to homeschool, you might consider hiring a private tutor. Consider a range of factors before hiring a private tutor, including:
In addition, you should consider whether your private tutor has experience teaching children with special needs. Ideally, you should find a tutor knowledgeable about cerebral palsy.
Homeschooled children can attend courses at community colleges, co-op classes and other educational programs. In addition, homeschooled children with cerebral palsy may be eligible for some special needs services through their local public school.
Online educational programs may also benefit homeschooled children with special needs. Assistive technology including special keyboards and workstations, mouth sticks, eye gaze control, touchscreens and mounts and switch devices can help children with cerebral palsy make use of these services.
Consider the options for educating children with cerebral palsy carefully, to decide which would best suit your child and the rest of your family.