As parents, we try to plan ahead for everything when it comes to our kids, but sometimes the unexpected happens. At first the signs that something is askew might be small, like your child isn't doing some of the things other children their age are, or maybe they are acting out more than expected. Suspecting that your child may have an undiagnosed disability or special need is a frightening experience, but you are not alone and help is available. Oregon Family Support Network's Regional Director, Shannon Pugerude, is also a parent of two special needs children. She has dedicated her life's work to helping Central Oregon families find the resources and support they need. "Families may not know that special education in schools today can provide support in a lot of different ways," she says. "All public schools in Central Oregon have special teams of teachers... that were formed specifically to monitor all student progress and participation to make sure (they) are receiving what they need to be successful in all realms of school life." Pugerude says some of the signs a child might have special needs include the following. They:
• exhibit challenging behaviors or get into "trouble" often.
• have difficulty participating in activities with peers and when in less structured social settings.
• are falling behind in their schoolwork or they avoid completing homework. If you suspect your child may need help, Pugerude says the best place to start is with your child's school or your primary care physician. She says that some cases are tricky, though, and "invisible disabilities" like mental health challenges may need further evaluation to gain an accurate picture of your child's needs. "The best advice I can give is that if you feel like you aren't getting a clear picture of what is going on and things aren't improving, keep asking," says Pugerude. She explains that the best way to find out if your child might benefit from services is to have a formal evaluation completed. Families can request an assessment from the school and receive it at no cost if there is a disability that may be impacting their ability to access their education (including social aspects of school) or learn at a rate recognized as "typical development."
According to Pugerude, schools have the right to refuse to complete an evaluation. She says if this happens there are other places where you can obtain evaluations and learn additional ways to work with the school towards making sure all of your child's needs are met. She suggests taking the following steps in order:
• Ask to meet with your child's teacher and the other teaching specialists in your youth's school, including, but not limited to: the school psychologist (they do the assessments and are experts on eligibility), a special education teacher, a school counselor or the person who manages 504 plans and the Principal or Vice Principal. Share your concerns and hear their thoughts and ideas. There are also special education administrators who are very knowledgeable about all of the programs the school district offers. They can attend these meetings as well and are a great resource.
• Talk to your pediatrician.
• If you still feel there might be something that's getting missed, don't stop asking for help. Sometimes it takes meeting the right person to understand your youth's needs. Try local developmental disability programs; mental health services; peer support programs such as Central Oregon Disability Network, OFSN or NAMI; and family peer support specialists can be a wealth of support for a family with a youth who is struggling. Their job is to help families access resources and provide support, coaching and training—and they all have the shared lived experience.
• Reach out to other parents who have youth with similar challenges. There are many online support groups for parents on social media.
While finding out your child has a disability or a special need can be scary, it is important to remember you are not alone. A vast number of community resources are ready to help your child get the help they need so that they can find success at home and in school. There are also numerous families just like yours, and they are also ready to provide a shoulder or lend a hand to help guide you as you learn how to support your loved one's unique needs.
For Help Accessing Resources or Navigating Systems Support groups/peer support
Oregon Family Support Network ofsn.org
Central Oregon Disability Network factoregon.org/family-networks-disabilities-oregon/ central-oregon
The Child Center thechildcenter.org
Inclusive Child Care Program oregoninclusivecc.org
Understanding your rights
Places that do evaluations locally either free or paid by OHP Birth to 5yrs
High Desert Education Center hdesd.org/services/ei-ecse/evaluation
Healthy Beginnings myhb.org/screenings
Together for Children together-for-children.org
St. Charles Behavioral Health stcharleshealthcare.org/Our-Clinics/Behavioral- Health-Care/Programs-and-Services/PEDAL-Clinic