As a parent, you want your child to succeed in everything they do—regardless of the circumstances. If your child has a disability, your expectations may change—but you still want your child to succeed.
Your goal is to always ensure that every opportunity, advantage, and support is available to your son or daughter. When it comes to education, those supports take the form of an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The first step to getting an IEP is to write to your child’s school to request an evaluation of your child; make sure to specify your reasoning as to why you believe an evaluation is necessary.
When Katherine Myles noticed her son, Samuel Pitts Jr., seemed delayed compared to his first-grade peers, she reached out to his public school in Washington, DC. Though some parents may worry about stigma or labeling, Katherine recommends, “trust your instincts. Early intervention is best when it comes to education.”
The Right Fit
Samuel, who was mostly nonspeaking, was evaluated and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Samuel received an IEP that placed him in a special education program within the DC public school system.
While Samuel managed in this program throughout elementary school, as middle school approached, Katherine knew that he was not progressing at the rate she hoped. She was concerned that the public middle school programs would not adequately meet his needs. As a parent, you have the right to request an IEP meeting to review any part of the plan at any time—whether you’re concerned with the placement, the services, the accommodations, or another aspect of the IEP. Katherine did just that.
She began to look at other options for Samuel, including schools that could provide the full-time support and services he needed to thrive. Her search led her to Sheppard Pratt’s special education schools, particularly Sheppard Pratt School - Rockville. Katherine says visiting schools helped her choose the right fit for her son. “You can tell if you are in the right place by how the staff interacts with the students, and I could tell that Samuel would be happy based on what I saw there, and then later at Sheppard Pratt School - Lanham.”
Getting Samuel a private placement was a process. In order to receive funding for a nonpublic school, the IEP team must agree that the nonpublic school placement is the best fit to meet the goals of the child’s IEP. At first, the DC School District did not give Samuel a referral for a new placement. However, Katherine persisted, and her fierce advocacy and dedication paid off: She convinced the DC school system that Samuel needed the placement, and he was admitted to Sheppard Pratt School - Rockville, a Type I special education school. He would later transfer to Sheppard Pratt School - Lanham when his family moved to Capitol Heights.
A Nourishing Environment
Samuel quickly began to thrive: He was finally receiving the support he needed. He learned to use his coping skills, developed independent living skills, and he was succeeding in the classroom. Most importantly, he learned to “talk” and advocate for himself with the help of an assistive communication device. According to Dr. Ka’Nessia Shepard, Related Services Supervisor, “Sammy speaks volumes with his smile, laughter, and speech-generating device.”
Today, Samuel is a bright and independent student set to graduate in May 2020. “He will be missed, but we are thrilled at the progress he has made. The whole team wishes him the best in his future endeavors,” says Tyrone Frazier, Principal of Sheppard Pratt School - Lanham.
Katherine credits a lot of Samuel’s success to the team approach the staff uses. “Everyone is there for Samuel; they work together and are decisive, knowing what [he] needs and wanting to help him succeed.”
When asked what advice she would give other parents, Katherine paused and then said, “Always believe in your child. Never let anyone tell you that your child cannot do something if you think they can.”
With 14 schools, Sheppard Pratt is the largest provider of nonpublic special education programming in Maryland.