by Raphael James
People go to school to become many things…doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers. But I have yet to meet the person who went to school with the goal of becoming parent to a child with special needs.
In fact, at times it seems the person least qualified to help the child navigate a life of special needs, is the parent. Teachers, doctors, and social workers spend years getting specialized training in their field. Parents, usually don’t get that luxury.
Want to be intimidated? Try sitting across the table from educational experts talking about your child in weird alphabetized code.
“We think this amount of ABA will provide XYZ for your child’s IEP. Is that OK?”
The thought of IEP (Individualized Education Plans) meetings can be frightening. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In America, children with special needs have the same rights and expectations to quality education as anyone else. But oftentimes it takes the parent standing up to demand what’s best for his or her child.
You have rights and there are many websites out there that detail what those rights are. Here are a few that I have found helpful.
In South Carolina, there is an organization called Pro-Parents. They offer training in the community for parents to understand the special education system. Rene Sharkey, a regional director, says don’t go into an IEP meeting unprepared when her group is just a phone call away. “If a child has an IEP and they’re not sure the school is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, they can call us and ask what types of services are available to them. We can also go over an IEP with the parent to see what is going to be the best services for that child in school.” (The number for Pro-Parents is 803.772. 5688).
Another website that I found helpful was wrightslaw.com. This link has a list of frequently asked questions concerning special factors of IEP’s that you might find helpful. The website appears to be the brainchild of two law professors who teach a course on special education law and have published several books on the subject.
The third resource is an article from Jaketta Davis of the Detroit Autism Education Examiner. She highlights 5 things she learned at her son’s IEP meetings and shares strategies for avoiding some of her pitfalls. It’s helpful, practical advice that’s easy to understand.
Don’t be intimidated. You’ve got this!
No matter how many degrees THEY have, no matter how many alphabets come behind their name YOU ARE qualified to be sitting at that table. You know your kid better than any of them.
Come prepared to fight. No matter how nice they may all seem, you may have to scrap a little bit to get what your child needs. Remember, in that meeting the school administrators are not solely looking out for the best interest of your child. They have the interests of the other kids, teachers and ultimately represent the concerns of the district. If anyone is going to stand up for your child it is going to have to be you.
Feel overwhelmed? Ask someone to go in with you. The saying goes two heads are better than one and it’s possible that another set of eyes and ears can pick up on things that you may have missed.
Know your rights and stand firm. You can do this! You have to do it! Your child is counting on you.