When you are the parent of a child with special needs, you may face challenges everyday — challenges that parents of neurotypical children might not ever understand. When it comes time to let your little one out into the world, the prospect of seeking service through the public school setting might seem daunting — but it doesn’t have to be.

Lynne Mowatt, executive director of Pinellas County’s Exceptional Education services, said she and her team are ready to help ESE students not only receive the services they need, but to feel welcome in the classroom.

“It is our responsibility to serve our students and our community,” she said.

If a child meets eligibility guidelines following an assessment by the school district, ESE team members, teachers and therapists will work with parents to develop an individualized education program that will set forth goals and objectives for the coming year.

“Some students come in with very complex needs,” Mowatt said. “Depending on those needs, evaluations and goals will vary.”

“This is not a cookie cutter plan,” said Laura Bluett, an ESE specialist for compliance with the school district.

The one constant throughout the process is the need for active, supportive and present parent involvement.

“I cannot stress the importance of parental involvement,” Mowatt said. “Parents have the final say when it comes to the IEP process.”

Mowatt recommends a few steps for parents to take as they navigate the process.

• Ask questions. “It’s a good idea to write down a list of questions and concerns and present them to the team.”

• Ask for a draft IEP plan to review prior to the meeting to familiarize yourself with suggested goals.

• Don’t be scared. “A parent can feel small or overwhelmed,” Mowatt said. “But remember this is a cooperative, collaborative effort. Advocate for your child, and so will we.

“We really care about our students,” she continued.

For more information, call 727-588-6032.