It is that time of year—parents start buying school supplies, putting overpriced sneakers on layaway and developing a new strategy for dealing with teachers, administrators and various other academic interveners, disguised as well meaning and caring purveyors of public school education.
So here is my Five Step Survival Guide to special education advocacy:
1.Have a building based plan. Many districts require special education services to go through a central office. If you can avoid this, by all means do. These people do not know you child, and only have his/her psychological testing, social work evaluations to go by. (Have you ever wondered how you would be described in an evaluation done by a perfect stranger asking you things you don’t tell you best friend?) While this snapshot may be clinically acceptable, it is only a snapshot—you child needs should be based on more than that. If you cannot avoid going through a central committee, still pursue an unofficial meeting with the building based team leader—it may be the speech, OT or PT. In the worst-case scenarios, someone is usually the carryover year to year, and is the de facto coordinator of special services.
2.Know your legal rights. Well meaning administrators and teachers tell parents so much bad, subjective and completely wrong information, its scary. Parents have been mandated to medicate children, allow aversive therapies (electro-shock), deny medication (insulin), etc. that is critical parents have a copy of the IDEA law, the 504 section of the ADA, and the mandatory guide to special education services, which is required (but seldom seen). Learn the appeals process, the grievance process, etc.
3.Know your legal options. There are lots of treatments, therapies and services that are available outside of the school district. Some health departments’ offer home based services to children at the pre-school stage, or children with serious medical conditions. Many health insurance plans cover speech, OT, PT. There are also services through the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities for children with less severe issues (respite, summer camp, special play groups, equipment rental, etc.) If you have to try to wrangle services form the school district, there are disability advocates through centers for independent living (CIL’s), VESID and other local disability rights organizations; let you finger do the walking through the Yellow Pages.
4.Get a second opinion. You child’s kindergarten teacher may know finger paints and nursery rhymes, but that does not apply to disabilities. Most teachers are not required to take any classes about disabilities, or any cognitive impairment. Those fortunate enough to be at a school with a minor or electives have a limited selection, and little or no practicum. Always get a psychological evaluation outside of your child’s home school. This local person never can give a truly unbiased assessment, when they have the feedback of peers, teachers, and building neighbors.
5.Develop your own plan. The Internet had leveled the playing field between parents and practioners. Anything you want to know about any issues, illness or disability is yours for the reading. Gather information, go the libraries and support groups, to bounce ideas around. Use parenting experience to document your child’s strengths, weaknesses, responses to stimuli, etc. This information should be distilled to a one page report to give to new teachers; share the long various with the building based special education/support services team.
Not everyone will value your level of preparation and knowing what you want, but one person will benefit—your child.