How a child receives his education is one of the most important choices a parent faces. For the parent of a child with cerebral palsy, the choices are no less important and can be very difficult. Like all parents, you want to place your child in an educational environment that will allow him to thrive and reach his or her greatest potential. Every child with cerebral palsy has different needs and abilities and deciding whether to place them in a special education environment, with specially trained instructors or a mainstream education program, where they might find more opportunities to learn how to function in mainstream culture. Either choice has its advantages and disadvantages.
Mainstream doesn’t automatically mean “public school.” Private schools also offer mainstream education and environment.
If a child’s cerebral palsy is deemed “mild,” he or she will probably benefit from a mainstream environment. It can provide them with certain social skills and emotional growth they might not get elsewhere. So much of early education is about socialization and learning to interact with others. Proponents of placing children with mild cerebral palsy into mainstream educational systems suggest it benefits both the afflicted child (by giving them a stronger sense of daily routine and boasting their self-esteem) and the non-disabled child (who gains a stronger sense of empathy and inclusivity).
As mandated by law (IDEA – Individual with Disabilities Education Act), children who meet the requirements of “special needs” can and should develop an IEP (individualized education program) to ensure a child’s educational needs are met. IEP’s may include additional or alternative physical or speech therapy or other special considerations during certain classes. This can help keep them in the mainstream environment while seeing that they get the special attention they require. IEP’s can address both physical limitations as well as cognitive.
Children with more severe manifestations of cerebral palsy may not be able to thrive in a mainstream environment and may benefit from attending a special education school. Here they will work with a staff of education specialists trained to educate children with a variety of disabilities, not just cerebral palsy. In a special school program, each needs of each child is independently addressed and monitored, thus eliminating the fear that a mainstream school might move too fast for your child.
The lines between mainstream education and special education are not as harshly defined as they once were. Children who attend special schools often attend classes (such as art and music) at mainstream schools or attend mainstream school for the bulk of their courses and only attend special school classes in subjects they are struggling with.
In choosing an educational path that best fits the needs and abilities of your child, there are ample resources. Teachers, doctors and therapists are all available to work with you in bringing together the right components of the education your child needs and deserves.