By Jan Baumel, M.S.
You've heard about accommodations at school, but just what are they? Is it fair for kids to use accommodations? Who gets to have them?
Just because your child may have trouble reading, or doing math, or writing legibly doesn't mean that he's not able to learn. Accommodations don't change the basic curriculum, but they do make learning a little easier or help him communicate what he knows.
If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and receives special education, she's probably getting accommodations in her regular public school classroom. Or, she may be receiving accommodations under Section 504, a federal law that prevents discrimination. In either case, the multidisciplinary team agreed on and documented the accommodations necessary for her to succeed in the general education classroom.
Many general education teachers make accommodations in their classes for any kid who's struggling. If this isn't happening for your child, a parent-teacher conference is a good time to discuss whether accommodations would be appropriate.
When thinking about accommodations, be sure to focus on your child's main needs. Remember that what might have worked for you in school may not work for him. Many parents ask for extra time on tests for their kids. But if you asked your child, he might tell you that what he really needs is to be able to retake the test or to take it in a quiet room with no distractions.
With his help, identify two or three reasonable accommodations that could make a real difference for him in all classes. You'll find that many of the suggestions below apply at home, too. By trying some of them out before you meet with the teacher, you'll be in a better position to know what really works for your child. Include him in your discussion with the teacher, too. If accommodations are going to work, your child has to "buy in" and be willing to use them.
Remember: Accommodations aren't intended to take the place of real learning or instruction in basic skills. Instead, they provide ways for kids with learning problems to take in information or help them express their knowledge.
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