Are you the parent of a child with autism, learning disabilities, or another disability receiving special education services? Are you sick and tired of special education personnel in your district denying your child needed related and special education services? This article will empower you to fight back for your child by addressing important advocacy skills.Advocacy Strategy 1: Educate yourself about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA 2004) and your states regulations on special education. You can do this by reading books, attending conferences and developing friendships with more experienced parents of children with disabilities. By being educated on federal and state law your chances of success with your advocacy increase.Advocacy Strategy 2: Documentation is critical in winning a special education dispute. Begin sending letters to document what is occurring in your child’s education. Important verbal conversations must be followed up by a short letter, to the person you spoke to. For Example: Your child’s teacher states in a phone conversation that your child is not progressing, and needs more intense related and special education services. Immediately write a letter to the teacher, including the date and time of the conversation, and what was said. The letter needs to be Hand delivered to the teacher, or sent certified with a return receipt. This will document what the teacher said, even if she denies that she ever said it.Also, save any letters or other documentation sent from special education personnel. You should save important school papers, any notes about negative behavior, any documentation that you need to strengthen your advocacy position. I once advocated for a young boy who had negative behavior at school. The school was sending home daily behavior sheets, and I advised the mother to date them, and not throw them away. We used them at a due process to show that when the school district stated the child’s behavior was out of control, the behavior sheet said he was fine. Documentation can win a case, or lack of documentation can lose a case.Advocacy Strategy 3: Tape record all IEP meetings, and if possible and necessary have a transcriber transcribe them for future use. Transcriptions of IEP meetings can be used at due process as documentation.In all my years of advocacy, I have never been a huge fan of tape recording, but I have recently changed my mind. School districts have become so bold in denying things they tell parents, that it is critical that parents have documentation of what is being said in meetings, and what the school district is agreeing to. I find a huge discrepancy between what many special education personnel agree to in a meeting, and what is being documented in a child’s IEP. A transcript of a tape recorded meeting could be used as evidence in a due process hearing, to show what the school district agreed to.Advocacy Strategy 4: Whenever special education personnel want to change a child’s label placement or refuse to change your child’s label or placement, they must give prior written notice (PWN) to you. Also, if they deny services that your child needs, they must also give PWN. For example: If you take your child to an independent evaluator and bring the report of recommendations to the school district, and they refuse to follow the recommendations, they must give you PWN, on why they are not following the recommendations.Advocacy Strategy 5: Be willing to file state complaints or due process for non compliance with IDEA 2004, or if the school district does not give your child FAPE. Going over the school districts head is the best way to ensure that your child is getting the appropriate services that they need.With these advocacy strategies under your belt, you will have a better chance of prevailing in a dispute with your school district. Your child is depending on you so work hard for their benefit.
I have evaluated thousands of children over a 15 year period for special education eligibility. As a school psychologist, we are at the front lines when it comes to making the decision of whether your son or daughter will receive special education services. However, the real question you need to ask yourself is; “Does your son or daughter NEED special education services.”Often I evaluate students who exhibit a great deal of variability among their WISC-IV or Stanford-Binet IQ subtests. This in itself is a red flag for the presence of a learning disability. However, once the Woodcock-Johnson III achievement test results are analyzed does one realize that the child is still able to learn and “get by” despite the possible presence of a learning disability.This “get by” state of being is where the sticky issue presents itself to most parents. Most parents aren’t satisfied with their child just “getting by” in their respective school. I would also like to remind most parents that most teachers are not satisfied with their students just getting by either. However, the law is the deciding factor in this case.By law a student must present an educational need in order to qualify for special education placement. If the need is not there then the child doesn’t qualify. Now, the need is most often determined by the results of a standardized achievement test. Usually the WJ-III, as mentioned above. If a student is exhibiting poor grades and average WJ-III scores it is most often that the student is either not completing their homework, is a behavior problem, or is missing a great deal of school. This may be due to their disability especially if they are experiencing health problems. In these cases it is most often that students are placed in what is called 504 placement and is specifically designed for students with health problems.This leads me to the other options available to parents when it comes to placement in special education. Parents may wish to consult with their family physician in order to explore the possibility of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). This diagnosis may allow your child to be placed in a 504 placement or as an other health impaired student, which is an alternative special education placement that does not require a significant discrepancy between intelligence and achievement. However, all placements in special education require an academic need.
We all want our children to enjoy learning, and to be the best that they can possibly be. If your child has a physical or learning disability, you may be considering special education schools. Many offer a wide range of programs that support and grow with the student throughout the academic years, so they have the best chance to succeed.Needs addressed
Does the program have a particular focus for the children it serves? Some are specifically designed for kids with autism, while others may be for adolescents with disabilities such as cerebral palsy. Consider a school that has programs proven to help your child’s particular needs.Services
Most special education schools will offer some supportive services. Do they conduct periodic assessments? Since you may be attending the school with the help of federal or state assistance, ask what kind of support the school offers with completing paperwork and providing regular updates to the appropriate groups. Do they offer transportation to and from school?Class size
It’s important to consider the class size for the different programs that may be attended. A larger class size is not necessarily bad in all cases, as group activities can be very beneficial. However, instruction is best received in smaller group settings. Will your child get the attention and focus they need based on the average class size? How many teachers and assistants are in any given room?Methods for teaching
Ask about the different teaching methods the institution uses. All children learn differently, but those with disabilities may also need help with accessing resources or having materials read to them. Hands on activities are important, but interacting with students at their level and in a way that is not demeaning or intimidating is most important.Faculty experience
Do your homework on the actual staff. If the specific programs will have more than one teacher, get to know each of them and go observe some classes if you can. Do they seem to adapt to the different kids and learning levels? How do they handle challenges or disruptions? What disabilities do they specialize in? Does the supporting staff have experience as well? You should find staff biographies on the school’s website, but you can also ask for references and learn a lot by just talking with them.Reputation
Is the institution known in the area for their programs and success in working with children with disabilities? If they’ve been around a while, chances are they are doing something right.Special education schools can be costly, even with some type of assistance. You want to make sure you are getting value for the cost, but most importantly, your child is getting the education they need and deserve.