When your child with cerebral palsy is ready for school, expect a whole new world of opportunities and challenges. The right education plan can help your child reach his or her full potential. But school is not just about academics and skill-building. Just like his or her peers, your child is navigating friendships and social situations. Follow this 7-step checklist to help your child succeed during the elementary school years. Step 1: Look Into an IEP Children with cerebral palsy usually are diagnosed within the first few years of life and receive services before reaching kindergarten. Many of them are identified as children who need an individualized education program (IEP). The IEP team might determine that your child needs the help of a classroom aide or would benefit from physical therapy, speech therapy, or occupational therapy. While you can't insist upon certain services, you can appeal the IEP if you feel that it is not meeting your child's needs. Also, some children who do not qualify for an IEP can get educational assistance through a 504 plan, which provides for accommodations that improve a child's learning experience. Step 2: Get Tech Savvy Technology can help kids with cerebral palsy complete tasks and reach goals that would be too difficult to do on their own. For a child who has trouble walking independently, forearm crutches, braces, a walker, a gait trainer, or a wheelchair can help. For kids who find it difficult to speak, computer programs and electronic devices can vocalize their thoughts. Your child's physical, occupational, and speech therapists can help identify which assistive devices will benefit your child the most. They also can help you learn how to get these devices. Step 3: Plan Activities and Play Dates Social activities are just as important for a child with cerebral palsy as they are for all kids. Many sports programs, such as Special Olympics, Little League Challenger Division, and TOPSoccer, can help your child to be physically active while also meeting new friends who have similar challenges. Therapeutic horseback riding programs and aquatic therapy are also great ways to keep kids active. If your child has made a friend at school, invite the child over for a play date or meet at a park or for ice cream. Whether the friend has a disability or not, friendships help all kids develop important social skills and make them more sensitive to the needs of others. Step 4: Secure Your Child's Future If you have not written a will or set up a legal and financial framework for your child's future, it's not too late. Talk with an attorney who specializes in special needs law and a financial advisor to find the best way to manage your assets and prepare financially for your child's adulthood. If you have already written a will, it's a good idea to review it from time to time to make sure that the custodial plan you made when your child was younger is still the best option. Step 5: Find Support Dealing with the day-to-day challenges of parenting a child with CP can be overwhelming. Having a strong support network can help you power through even the most challenging days. To connect with other parents who understand your situation, find a local support group or get involved with your area United Cerebral Palsy affiliate. If a local group isn't available, look for online support. Respite care can be a saving grace for you and the rest of your family. Just a few hours a week can give you the time you need to recharge. ARCH National Respite Network maintains a database of respite services. Step 6: Address Emotional Needs At times your child may feel left out, left behind, or bullied. Kids with disabilities sometimes feel very different from other children, and this can make them feel angry or sad. Be on the lookout for signs that your child is being bullied, including a reluctance to go to school, decreased appetite, trouble sleeping, or unexplained crying. If your child is being bullied, speak with school administrators as soon as possible. At home, talk with your child about the experience and use role play to teach him or her how to ignore bullies and report problems to trusted friends and teachers. As puberty approaches, your child will be dealing with new emotions that are part of normal development. Step 7: Prepare for Puberty Talk with your doctor about what to expect as your child matures, and how to handle it. Reassure your child that the changes that come with puberty are normal. Girls who get their periods will need to learn new hygiene habits, while boys might need reassurance that wet dreams are normal. Talk to your child about appropriate versus inappropriate touching, explaining that he or she should immediately tell you if someone crosses the line. The move into the teen years brings the reality that your child will soon become an adult. Your child's IEP team and therapists will help you create a plan for your child's future — including where he or she will live and whether higher education or the workforce are options. Learn more about the transition IEP, which sometimes starts as early as age 14, in our Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Teens & Young Adults. Back to Articles Related Articles Support for Parents of Kids With Special Needs You might have more on your plate than most parents, but it doesn't mean you have to do it all alone. Here's how to ask for help and avoid caregiver burnout. Read More Disciplining Your Child With Special Needs Here's how to set boundaries and communicate your expectations in a nurturing, loving way. Read More Cerebral Palsy Cerebral palsy (CP) affects a child's muscle tone, movement, and more. This article explains causes, diagnosis, treatment, and coping. Read More Finding Respite Care for Your Child With Special Needs Finding that perfect person to care for your child can be a challenge. These resources can help. Read More Words to Know (Special Needs Glossary) When your child has a disability and needs services, there's a lot you need to know. This glossary defines terms on health care, government benefits, learning, legal and financial matters, and more. Read More Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) Some kids may be eligible for individualized education programs in public schools, free of charge. Understanding how to access these services can help you be an effective advocate for your child. Read More 504 Education Plans If your child has special needs in the classroom, he or she may be eligible for a government-supported learning plan. Read More Special Education: Getting Help for Your Child Kids with special needs may quality for services to help with learning. Here is a guide to getting the help your child needs. Read More Special Needs: Planning for Adulthood (Video) With info on financial and health care benefits to employment and housing options, this video series can help you plan for your child's future. Read More Dietary Needs for Kids With Cerebral Palsy Kids with cerebral palsy often have trouble eating. But with the right diet and feeding techniques, they can get the nutrients needed to thrive. Read More Financial Planning for Kids With Special Needs These 10 steps can help take the anxiety and worry out of your child's financial future and make sure that your child will be taken care of even after you're gone. Read More Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Teens & Young Adults If your teen has cerebral palsy, there's a lot to know. This checklist makes it easy to determine what programs and services might be needed as your teen nears adulthood. Read More Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Babies & Preschoolers If your child has cerebral palsy, there's a lot to know. This checklist makes it easy to find out what programs and services may be available to you. Read More Cerebral Palsy: A Parent's Guide (Video) Are you raising a child with cerebral palsy? This guide offers advice, resources, and support so that you can help your child reach his or her full potential. Read More Assistive Devices: Positioning Aids (Slideshow) Kids with special needs have many options when it comes to supportive seats. View this slideshow to see what's available. Read More Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. 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