Friday, October 23, 2015

Autism Eduational Series—IEPS and School Accomodations—"Our Autism/Bipolar Journey"

My name is Janice. I am the mother to three children including a 13 year old who has Autism, Bipolar Disorder and other diagnoses. I am the Chairperson of our town's Special Education Parent's Advisory Council and volunteer for an online agency that supports families who have children with mood disorders.  You can read more about our journey on my blog at Our Autism/Bipolar Journey or on Facebook at Our Autism/Bipolar Journey.

School Accommodations and IEPs for Children with Autism:
There is a quote from Rod Paige (Secretary of Education) which states "There is no more powerful advocate than a parent armed with information and options." Looking back throughout the years, my son has taught me more than I ever imagined I would know about the educational system. The summer before he began kindergarten, I spent that summer studying the federal laws and state regulations, because I knew he was going to need accommodations. I read somewhere that "informed parents make the best advocates." Those words became etched in my heart. I knew he needed me to advocate for him. I became determined in getting him the help he needed. When he was in first grade, I became involved with our town's Special Education Parent's Advisory Council. After a few years, I was nominated as the chairperson. Honeybunches is now in 7th grade, just beginning our new journey of middle school. It's like a whole new world for both of us.

Here are 10 of the most important things I have learned about Educational Advocacy as a parent:

  1. You can agree to disagree. If the school district refuses to give your child accommodations you know they need, you can partially reject the IEP and request an Independent Evaluation.
  2. You know your child best. It's important for you to inform the school about your child's needs. (Giving an "All About My Child" portfolio to new teachers/professionals is important.)
  3. "Informed" parents really do make the best advocates for our children.
  4. It's okay to jump over heads. If you don't get what you need from the teacher, it's okay to let the special education director know what's going on. If you are not satisfied with communication on that level, it's perfectly okay to jump over their head to the superintendent. Honestly, I've found that CC'ing the Superintendent on emails with other school personnel gets answers much quicker. Yes, that might make some people who aren't doing their jobs properly frustrated. That's okay and leads to the next point:
  5. It won't matter in 5-10 years who you pissed off along the way (Besides your children). I used to worry about making people mad at me. I know the school likely thinks about me as "That Momma."  What will matter is that I've advocated for my child and got him the help he needed.
  6. FAPE: Free "Appropriate" Public Education. The school district does not have to give our child the "Best" education possible. They're only required to give them an "Appropriate" one.
  7. If it's not written, it didn't happen. Send all communications in writing via email or even better handwritten, but bring them to the office having the secretary initial, date and stamp "received". Then have her make you a copy. Talking on the phone or even in person isn't as "legal" as the written word. Follow up on all telephone communications in writing.
  8. Ask for more than your child really needs. Throw in some things that would be nice to have, but not absolutely necessary. That leaves "negotiating" room.
  9. Remember teachers are not the "bad guys". The majority of them have good hearts and would like to see the children they teach succeed. (They surely aren't in it for the $$$$$!) Honestly, I praise my son's teachers. With his lack of participation, refusals and other issues at school, he's a difficult child to educate. Teacher' can be good advocates for our children. When they don't provide accommodations, it's not because they don't want to.
  10. Don't let emotions get in the way of your advocating. Listen. Ask questions. Stay Calm. Take deep breaths. Try your best to stay "regulated." Laugh to keep from crying if you have to. Drink water (it's impossible to drink and cry at the same time).
My Favorite Resources:
Some of the books about special education that I have found helpful are:
  • Wright's Law From Emotions to Advocacy by Peter and Pamela Wright
  • The Complete IEP Guide by Lawrence Seigel (**This one is my favorite because it is easiest to read and has many sample letters**.)
Some websites that I have found helpful with alot of information about Special Education are:

Parent Reports to help the school get to know your child:

Claire Gagan said "Knowledge will bring you the opportunity to make a difference." Educate yourself on the things it takes to advocate for your child. You can make the most difference in their world.

Janice, from MA aka "Honeybunches' Momma"

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