Regular Ed or Special Ed? The Big Dilemma

If you parent a difficult child, you may face the hard decision of regular education or special education. It is not a choice any parent wants to make.

In Georgia, we have a lottery-funded Pre-K program. The daycare my son attended was a participating location, and we were able to secure a coveted spot for him to attend at 4. We had experienced challenges with his behavior at the child care center the entire previous 2 years. Thankfully, the center owner was a mature, experienced provider who had experience with challenging children and managed him effectively.

When the more structured Pre-K program began, it became apparent that his inability to concentrate and the tendency toward disruption would be a problem. Again, our provider was aware of an excellent State program that was a Pre K intervention program. Started to help struggling children adapt to structured education. We embarked on the program and it was a remarkable success. At the end of Pre- K, all indications were that he would be fine to attend a regular kindergarten class at our local public school.

The problems began almost immediately. He was a constant disruption in the class. The class had a lead teacher and an assistant. It was explained to me that the teacher taught the class and the assistant spent the whole day managing my son. Even in my distraught state, I realized this was unfair to the teachers and the other children in that class. We had to have the difficult discussion on special education options.

Not every challenging child will need to consider special education. Many don’t but some of us have children that cause this to be the recommended course. The decision was made to have the teacher, the principal, our son’s doctor, a school counselor, and us, as the parents, for a meeting.

We all sat around a table and discussed this consequential decision and what was best for my son. After a lengthy discussion, the moment came for us to make the decision; yes or no to special education services. It was agonizing. We feared that placing him in special ed would mark him for every following year of his education. We made the decision yes.

He was placed into a self-contained EBD (Emotional and Behavior Disorder) classroom. Amazingly, it was 6 children and 2 teachers. This was a student/teacher ratio that we couldn’t have achieved at the finest private school in Atlanta for any price.

He moved from a self-contained classroom to a regular classroom over the next few years, and we seldom regretted the decision we had made. I did realize, however, that special ed in elementary school was very different from special ed in middle school. I made it my goal to have him fully mainstreamed to a regular class by the end of 5th grade. That is exactly what happened.

Some parents who placed their children in special ed then spent most of their time fighting the teachers and the school on issue after issue. It was an adversarial relationship and a challenge for all concerned. I never saw the wisdom of that. I always told his teachers that we had the same goal. That goal was to help our child be successful. I asked how I could support and enforce what they were doing with him in school at our home. I am so grateful for all those teachers who encouraged us and loved our son.

He had an IEP (Individual Education Plan) throughout the remainder of his school years and we had plenty of challenges with behavior and underachievement. I don’t regret using the services that were available to help us but sometimes do second guess myself, even today.

My son is 28 and I still have a file about 3 inches thick of documents, IEP specifics, assessments, and other school history. I wouldn’t want to do all of it again for any price. He is a really smart kid who was as stubborn as he was smart.

I did have a chance to discuss this with him recently and was surprised to hear him say that he thought choosing special education was a mistake that we had made. I was somewhat stunned as he had never expressed any reservations to me.

I tried to explain that we did the best we could, and I know he doesn’t hold it against us. It was a bit of a shock to hear him say to us that we had made a mistake. Parental guilt is something I tend to carry on many levels and this certainly did have a sting for me.

I can’t tell you what the right education choice is for your child and your family. I don’t think there is a standard answer. There is a family, a child, a school, a teacher, and a community and they are all unique. You have to make a decision and be willing to live with that decision. No matter what your choice, you will sometimes question yourself.


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