A major physicians’ group is urging doctors to learn more about special education services and to take a hands-on role in advocating for kids with disabilities.

In a clinical report published this month in the journal Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that doctors have a significant role to play in ensuring that children with disabilities get the services they need from schools.

The 13-page report offers pediatricians a primer on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, detailing school districts’ responsibilities to provide help for young children all the way through the transition to adulthood.

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“Although providers are advised to respect the educational expertise of school professionals, they can safeguard that children with disabilities and other health or behavioral issues receive appropriate services from (early intervention) and school programs throughout their childhood years,” the report states.

Specifically, the American Academy of Pediatrics said doctors should identify and refer children who ought to qualify for special education services and communicate effectively with school-based programs about kids’ needs.

By becoming involved in a child’s school planning – through written communication, calls or in-person meetings – doctors can help promote better medication monitoring, improved behavioral outcomes and they can advocate against the use of restraint and corporal punishment, among other concerns, the pediatrics group said.

This type of support from pediatricians is particularly important during transition periods in a child’s life including moving from one program or school to another, the group indicated.

The American Academy of Pediatrics previously issued a similar paper in 1999.

“This is an update for pediatricians, given the changes in IDEA, since they are commonly asked for help and advice by parents about ways to help their child with developmental and/or special educational needs,” said Paul Lipkin of the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who was a lead author of the new report.

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