The Ontario Education system can be daunting for families of children with special needs. Fortunately, there are strong policies and legislation supporting a child’s right to be evaluated as an exceptional learner, and supported appropriately. Below is an overview of the processes involved in gaining additional supports and accommodations for a student with special needs.
A child’s teacher may naturally adjust and modify their teaching strategies to meet the varying needs of students in their classroom, but the first step to ensuring consistent support and accommodation for a child with special needs is formal identification. This may occur at the suggestion of a parent, teacher, or other school staff. Usually the school will try to collect relevant data prior to convening an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC) meeting. This can include test results from the child’s teacher, as well as specialist assessments, such as a psycho-educational assessment by a staff psychologist. A parent can assist in this data-gathering phase by supplying the school with relevant information, such as a diagnosis or report from the child’s family doctor, or relevant specialist such as an audiologist or physiotherapist.
As a parent, you may be hesitant to seek a “label” on your child, especially at a young age, but formal identification can always be modified or eliminated completely in later years. Without being identified as an exceptional learner, a student will not have access to consistent educational supports or specialist teachers.
Once data is collected (or sometimes before, if there is a long wait for a specific assessment), an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC) meeting will be convened. Parents are strongly encouraged to attend this meeting, and share their insights and preferences with the group. This meeting will determine whether or not a child is exceptional (and what category of exceptional learner they are), as well as the placement that would best support their learning. See our IPRC page for more information on these meetings. If a parent is unsatisfied with the outcome of this meeting, there is an appeal process that can be followed.
Individualized Education Plan
Once a student is identified as exceptional, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) must be developed for them. This is a working document that will be updated regularly, and parents are strongly encouraged to provide input and ask questions of their child’s teacher with regards to its development. This document will outline modifications, supports, and alternative programming for the student. See our IEP page for more details on this important document.
For a very thorough navigation of the Ontario Education System, see this fantastic resource from the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario. It does include some LD-specific information, but is a great resource for all parents of exceptional students.
For a visual, flow-chart representation of the education system in Ontario, check out this special needs roadmap, produced by two Ottawa-area special needs parents.