Options for educating a child with cerebral palsy
Parents play a vital role in their children's education. It is critical that educational services and support begin as early as toddlerhood to allow for proper development of important life skills.
As a result of the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004, all children with disabilities are entitled to Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
FAPE ensures that children with disabilities receive appropriate instruction based on their individual needs. This provides children with access to mainstream education as well as the ability to develop self-sufficiency and social skills.
The four general types of education available for children with disabilities are:
- Public school
- Private school
Things such as learning disabilities, limited mobility and the family's financial situation must all be considered when determining which program is the best fit for a child with CP.
Options for public schooling
Public schools are the largest provider of both general and special education services and they supply a multitude of benefits for children with all types of cerebral palsy.
Public school may be the best option for parents who are looking for a cost-free education, as there are no out-of-pocket charges. Public school allows students with disabilities to be in a setting with their peers to prepare them for personal independence and aid in the development of social skills.
A notable disadvantage to choosing public school for a child with cerebral palsy is the unreliability in services available across school districts. If the child changes locations or transfers schools, he or she may fall behind if the curriculum or disability services offered aren't the same.
Also, there tends to be a lack of information made readily available to parents about the services and support provided for students with disabilities. This can result in a less than ideal educational environment for a child with cerebral palsy.
Within public education, there are 2 choices parents have in regards to how much inclusion in the classroom is best for their children:
- Full Inclusion
- Special Education or Self-Contained Classrooms
Full inclusion in public school
Students should be mainstreamed within the education system as often as possible. This allows them to be in an environment where other students are exhibiting age-appropriate behaviors and learning from each other.
Full inclusion gives all children a chance to participate in a normal classroom setting. A child with cerebral palsy would be accompanied by a teacher’s aide or counselor instead of being taken out of the classroom and excluded from the group. Children would still have access to self-contained classrooms and one-on-one help when needed for specific lessons or testing.
However, the one major disadvantage to full inclusion within public schooling is that a student with CP may not receive the help or attention they need in the classroom due to teachers being insufficiently trained or preoccupied with other students. Also, this may not be the best option if a child is dealing with a severe physical restriction or mental ability, as they could become overwhelmed or disruptive in a typical classroom setting.
Special education or self-contained classrooms
If full inclusion may not be the best option, the child can be enrolled in a special education or self-contained classroom program. This type of schooling is available to those who meet the criteria of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The 13 different disability categories under which 3 to 21-year-olds may be eligible for these services are:
- Emotional disturbance
- Hearing impairment
- Intellectual disability
- Multiple disabilities
- Orthopedic impairment
- Other health impairment
- Specific learning disability
- Speech or language impairment
- Traumatic brain injury
- Visual impairment (including blindness)
While cerebral palsy is not specifically listed under these qualifications, a child with CP can qualify under various other categories that would allow them to enroll in special education or self-contained classrooms.
Options for private schooling
Private school for a child with a disability can be a great option for those dealing with specific needs or restrictions that would directly impact their education.
The two general types of private school are:
- Conventional Private School
- Special Education Centers
Both types of schooling present a number of advantages and disadvantages for a child with CP that should be taken into consideration.
Conventional private school
One prominent reason to enroll a child with cerebral palsy in private school would be that students can receive religious instruction along with basic studies. This is a great option for those who value incorporating faith into education.
Another aspect to consider with a conventional private school is that the classrooms are likely to include smaller groups of students, which can be advantageous for a child needing additional attention and support. This would also eliminate the need for self-contained classrooms (available in public schools) and allow students to feel like they are no different than their peers.
Special education centers
Choosing a special education center for a child with CP can be the best option if parents are looking for a school that focuses specifically on children with disabilities. There are various education centers devoted to disability-specific children, such as schools for the deaf, blind or physically impaired.
These education centers typically have access to high-tech, specialized equipment, coursework and instructors that are trained in the proper techniques to educate students with special needs.
One disadvantage of this form of private education is that it can be costly and may not be the best option for those with limited personal funds. However, there are scholarships available for low-income or at-risk families that need them.
Options for homeschooling
Parents who decide to educate their children with a disability at home should be ready to provide an immense amount of devotion, patience and care. If the proper attention is given, this can be a very beneficial mode of educating children with cerebral palsy.
One major advantage to homeschooling is if a child struggles with issues such as a short attention span, unpredictable sleeping patterns or limited mobility. These are all aspects that could negatively impact a child’s performance in a typical classroom, so being educated in the comfort of their own home could alleviate these pressures.
With parents taking on the duty to educate their child, the proper resources and teaching materials are necessary to ensure that the child is receiving a high quality education. These can be acquired through a number of sources, from the public library to state and national homeschooling organizations. These groups also offer field trips, meet-ups, music classes, art classes and other activities to ensure a child is being socialized in conjunction with their education.
Options for private tutoring
Private tutoring for a child with CP is a great way to supplement an educational program that they are already enrolled in. This can be an excellent option if children with CP are struggling to grasp a specific subject or topic and could benefit from one-on-one attention with an instructor.
Tutoring can help in improving study habits and ensuring that children with a disability are on track with their education. One-on-one tutoring sessions are great for parents who are looking for a cost-effective way to enhance their child’s education without having to fund private schooling.
Selecting a special education program
The decision of which education program would be the best fit for a child with cerebral palsy requires attention to various aspects of their identity and disability. The process of researching and choosing an education program should begin early and have a focus on what would provide children with disabilities the highest chance of success throughout the rest of their life.
To learn more about special education programs, try downloading our free Cerebral Palsy Guide, which includes over 12 pages of in-depth information for children and parents of a child with CP.