Special Education and Dispute Resolution

Apparently we’re a very litigious bunch, insofar as parents of children with autism file more lawsuits than parents of other children with special needs; I’m sure this comes as no surprise to the thousands of parents who endlessly fight for their children’s access to an appropriate education!

The interesting statistic in this study is that court decisions regarding children with autism account for almost one third of the litigation under this section in the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Predictably, the special education system does not like to waste money defending itself a tsunami of autism related lawsuits. The authors suggest, “Special education leaders need to pay particular attention to establishing effective communications and trust building with parents of students with autism and to optimize the use of various approaches of alternative dispute resolution.”

Allow me to translate. The authors do not suggest that special educators should do the right thing for children with autism and follow the law, which requires inclusion and mainstreaming whenever possible; rather, they suggest that educators manipulate the parents to “trust” the professionals. If there is a problem, they should steer the parents away from going to court by deflecting substantive matters such as a systemic lack of medically necessary autism treatment, and instead focus on better “dispute resolution” and “trust building.”

It’s amazing how loyal parents of children with autism are when someone in the system actually looks out for their child and his future! The good special educators need power to advocate for the child in the system. The law, and the litigious nature of the parent, creates just the balance that a good special educator needs to push through the accommodations required for that child. If it’s uncomfortable for some bureaucrats to victimize children with autism because their parents have a crack team of litigators, and the law is on their side, so be it!

The authors of the study need to wake up: the reason that there is so much autism litigation is because the educational system fails children with autism on a regular basis. Autism can be the most difficult disability to accommodate successfully; however, with sufficient expertise, successful mainstreaming of children with autism in a school system is of benefit not only to the child with autism, but also to the typically developing children in that system.

Here is some advice for every school system that wants to avoid litigation: 1) hire skilled autism treatment talent at the district level to make the school district a magnet for parents who are invested in the future of their children with autism; and 2) allow autism experts, from birth-kindergarten, home or center treatment teams, to follow the children seamlessly into the system.

If school districts follow this simple formula, the amount of autism related litigation will diminish overnight!

Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D. on Twitter
Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.
Sociologist (Ph.D. Stanford '95), autism advocate, author of several books & a DVD on autism, mother of an adult w/ autism, founder of FEATBC in '96.
Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.

Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.

Sociologist (Ph.D. Stanford '95), autism advocate, author of several books & a DVD on autism, mother of an adult w/ autism, founder of FEATBC in '96.

0 thoughts on “Special Education and Dispute Resolution

  • November 21, 2012 at 11:16 pm

                People can have an autistic child and have better social status.  They’re more likely to sue than someone on the other end of the spectrum.

    I can tell you our system does not work.  I went through it. 

    They put massive roadblocks in my way.  They didn’t help at all.

  • November 21, 2012 at 8:43 am


    After filing 3 different times for due process and taking one of those all the way to state federal court (we still lost) our school district has become educated about educating children with autism and are better serving my son, but they are still cutting corners with other students to save money. They know what to do but if the other parents donot make them do it they will not spend the money, time and effort.     

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