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News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

How to get the best education for your kid with special needs

by Alex Cohen and Monica Bushman | Take Two®

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For parents of kids with learning disabilities, finding the right school can be a daunting task. Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

Finding a school for your child with special needs, and making sure they get access to all the resources they need is no easy undertaking.

Last week on The Brood, we heard from LA mom Sylvia Youngblood whose four kids each have special needs. 

"It gets very stressful. It really does. And sometimes as parents you have a meeting at the school and you leave and you get in your car and you just cry," Youngblood said. "You're so overwhelmed, you're so angry, you have all these emotions, and it just takes over you. It just overwhelms you."

Finding schools that met her children's needs was an incredibly daunting task, but there are some resources out there.

Ines Kuperschmit is Co-Executive Director and Co-Founder of The Learning Rights Law Center, an advocacy organization for disabled and at-risk youth in Los Angeles.

She offered this advice for parents and caregivers of children with special needs:

For many parents and caregivers, the first step is discovering that their child has some sort of learning or developmental disability. What resources are available just for that first step, in terms of an initial diagnosis or evaluation?

It partially depends on the age of the child when you realize that there might be a disability. There I encourage parents, if you suspect absolutely anything, just don't wait to answer the question about whether there might be a developmental delay. 

Usually, if your child is younger than 5-years-old, you would start with your local Regional Center. They're there to provide lifelong services to Californians with disabilities. You can find your local Regional Center online. If your child is over the age of five, you'll probably be going straight to your school district if you suspect a disability. So you would start by requesting a psychoeducational assessment, in writing, from your local school district.

What's the best way to go about finding a school that meets your child's needs?

The special education system has this process where the school and the parents and a bunch of mandatory team members sit down and create what's called an IEP (an Individualized Education Program). The IEP is the document that's created, but it's also what they call the meeting. The idea is that everybody is supposed to sit down and figure out what that student needs in order to succeed. And really it's the start of the conversation. Many times the school districts will identify schools that could be appropriate through the IEP process, but a lot of times parents like to see what else is out there. A lot of times though, school districts aren't very good at raising the possibility of charter schools or magnet schools or even non-public schools, which are kind of segregated schools for children with learning disabilities.

What are some of the factors parents should consider when looking for the right school?

In a perfect world, the psychoeducational assessment that you get for your child would be a wonderful roadmap for what your child needs, and the assessor might even recommend schools. Typically, the psychoeducational assessors are district employees so their recommendations can often be pretty cookie-cutter. Some parents do go out and hire a private psychoeducational assessment.

Can parents send their kids to any public school they choose? Including charter schools and magnet schools?

Something that we're seeing in Los Angeles, and I'm sure the problem isn't isolated to here, is that although parents have a right to send their children to charter schools and to magnet schools, even if their child has a disability, we are seeing a lot of charter and magnet schools turning parents away-- either directly, or implicitly, by saying 'Well, we just really can't provide what your child needs,' or they may say you need to start with your district, and they make it very difficult. So I want all parents of children with disabilities to know that if you want to go to a charter school or a magnet school, that you have a right to send your child there. These are public institutions and they're supposed to be accessible for all children.

Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

To listen to the full interview, click the blue player above.

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