Preparing for Your Journey Through the Special Education Maze
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By Deidre Hayden
Tips for Becoming a Skilled Observer
- Step back. Suspend for a brief time (three to five minutes) your normal role in family life. Step back from your family situation to put some distance between you and your child. By not intervening where you normally would, you may see your child's abilities and problems in a new light.
- Start fresh. Try to be open to new aspects of behavior you may have overlooked before. Observe behaviors that are happening now. Although reports on the past are important in describing a child's development, school personnel are interested in fresh, up-to-date information on what she can do now.
- Get focused. Decide upon a specific behavior or skill to observe. How, you ask, should you make this decision? The best rule is to look at those areas that trouble you or your child. You may want to examine one of the problem behaviors you have listed in the questionnaire, or you may want to ask a doctor or other professional to suggest behaviors to observe.
You can plan your observation to include various factors: who will be with your child, as well as where and when you will observe her. Concentrate on the one skill or behavior you have chosen, ignoring, as best you can, the other things going on.
- Go with the flow. As you watch your child's activities, record what you see actually happening, not your interpretations of your child's actions. You should become a "candid camera," waiting until later to reflect upon what you see.
Write down detailed, factual information. You will find this is easier if short periods of time are spent observing - perhaps five minutes or less. You can go back at another time, review your collection of observations, and then interpret the data. Use the Parent's Observation Record to document your observations.
Example Of a 5-Minute Observation
Reason for observation: Parent frustration over child's difficulty getting ready for school on time
Focus: Getting dressed for school
- Opens his sock drawer, stares at contents.
- Notices battery on top of bureau and picks it up.
- Takes it over to battery tester to test; decides not to.
- Sets battery down on floor.
- Comes back to bureau, shuts drawer.
- Remembers he's looking for socks and opens drawer again.
- Picks out socks.
- Sits on bed with socks in his hand.
- Notices deflated balloon on floor.
- Puts socks down; picks balloon up.
Throughout your child's school years you will need to make new observations of her growth and development. Fresh observations collected prior to meetings with teachers and other professionals can assist in providing specific recommendations for her special education program. By having this valuable information at your fingertips, you will feel confident as you fulfill your role as an equal partner in the special education planning process.