Autisable Dads

S4 E4 Schools and Special Needs

I’m going to be a bit blunt here, as my patience with school administrators can at times be a bit short.  Allow me to expand on this a bit more as I dive into the wonderful world of dealing with schools and our special needs kids.  

I say “dealing with schools” as this is something that is a constant stressor in our lives as parents.  But take it with a grain of salt folks… it’s like saying “dealing with work”.

Here in the United States, when we get a diagnosis and it is determined that our kid may need to be enrolled through a special needs program, the amount of information you have to obtain is immense.  I’ll break this down into segments to make this episode a bit more palletable…

First, you have to understand some processes and legal terminology.

For example, I.D.E.A is a Federal law and as such is enforceable.  Secondly, each state has its own rules and regulations.  Then you have each local school district and its own procedures.  Often these processes and legal requirements don’t actually align, and that’s where issues arise.

Now the IDEA is the Individuals with Disabilities Act.  This law, alongside the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), is the cornerstones of what parents have to rely upon to get specific accommodations for our kids.  When a school or business doesn’t abide by these laws, it’s pretty much time to lawyer up.

Schools have casework with our kids, and special needs cases in the United States often come with either an IEP or a 504 plan.  There are other alternatives, but they tend to be add-ons to IEPs or 504s.  Getting these plans in place require parents and/or teachers to be in agreement that the student in question needs extra help in specific areas.  An IEP is an Individual Education Plan, and a 504 is similar, but more often put in place for kids that don’t require as much in accommodation.

These plans follow a general rule of thumb where the least-restrictive environment is always at play.  Keep this in mind as we move forward.

Now, when I say I’m going to be blunt here, it’s not without stating that there are a lot of great teachers and therapists that attend to our kids.  The challenge with having special needs kids is often with administrators – those who control the budget.  Sometimes you may have a teacher here and there that makes the news with their actions, but most teachers do their job – and often struggle with navigating each child’s needs.  On top of this, therapists in school systems – be they Speech, OT, or at times ABA, have a HUGE caseload and have an extremely limited availability of time dedicated to our kids.

I’m sharing this to say that over the past dozen years, our experience with our kids is echoed in schools worldwide.  Many families have reached out to me for tips and ideas on how to address their kid’s IEP or 504.  So, as. a means to help families, and those who are in these job fields – here are some tips to share:

1. Operate like a CEO, run it like a business.

Parents are often told that they are the ones in charge.  However, we start off with not understanding anything about the processes and are essentially put in charge of a situation with zero qualifications other than we are the parent.  This is like placing a brand new employee as a manager of a store, who has little to no management experience.  The term trial by fire and on-the-job learning are key.  

The most common solution parents seek out is other parents who have experienced similar things for advice.  So, here’s my advice to parents who may feel as though they are struggling in this situation…

Get an advocate.  Advocates are people who understand the processes and are there to guide you in the process from outside the school system.  This offers a more unbiased perspective.  This would be akin to getting a business consultant when your getting started in business.  Advocates are your consultant.

2. Ask Until You understand and are comfortable with an answer.

Often we are in these IEP meetings and/or read the IEP and glaze over it with all these things written about our kid.   Here’s the thing, ask until you understand each aspect completely.  It won’t take long until you will get the hang of it.

To the non-parents in these meetings, thanks in advance for your patience as parents get acclimated to this process.

4. The IEP and 504 are enforceable documents and can be reviewed by a Lawyer.

Here’s the thing, when a parent says it is in an IEP, it means the school is legally bound to follow that document.  This carries with it a lot of weight, as it relates to Federal IDEA law.  There are also things that need to be addressed in an IEP that may often get looked over.  So, if you have any questions or concerns, have a qualified Lawyer review it before you sign it.

5. Don’t Rush to an Answer

Some schools may push for an IEP to get signed.  This can be for a variety of reasons.  But like any legal document, never rush into it until you are completely satisfied with what is on it.  Also, there may be a need for a lawyer to review it.

6. Don’t get too comfortable with the IEP team – keep in constant communication

It is GREAT having an IEP team that works well together with your kid, but parents – don’t slack off.  And teachers and administrators – there is always a need to stay on point.

Sometimes the needs of the schools may come in the way of the IEP, and these moments may go unnoticed.  For example, all may be going well from a parents perspective, but there may have been some incident that didn’t get reported – or something was overlooked on the IEP.  It’s a slippery slope when as the year goes on less reporting happens.

7. Remember to keep EVERYTHING documented.  

Seriously, each phone call, follow up with an email.  Date/Time, who you spoke with.  Everything that was said.  Also, make sure to copy the teacher as well as whoever else is needing to be copied when emailing.

Any information that is passed along via phone, or in passing conversation, is not documented.  Follow-up and document it.   This helps with communication, as to keep those lines of communication open between the IEP team and the parent.  

Now to be a bit more blunt – and this is to those in administration.

Parents and teachers and therapists spend hours on end collaborating on the specific ‘least-restrictive’ needs for our kid, so they can be the best student they can be.  These are items that are advised upon, discussed, and agreed to in their IEP.

As such, we parents do not care about a school budget.  We don’t care if your school doesn’t have the accommodations to make that IEP possible.  We will refer regularly to the IEP – as that is the legal document that must be abided by.  The responsibility is upon the school to follow through with that IEP.  IF not, then other action will be required.  

Some may say that legal action is on the school or school district.  No one really wants to go down that road, but here’s an example:

In Virginia Beach, there is a couple whose special needs child wasn’t getting the education she needed in the most beneficial way.  As such, the couple opted to have their kid moved to a private school and won in court to have the city pay for this.

Here’s the deal, although that family won in court – the school has yet to pay for anything.  Instead, they file regularly not to pay and actually has sued the family to have their daughter back in public school.

When an administrator focuses on how good they look to the public, or their fellow educators, rather than on what’s best for the child – they loose.  In this case,  the person who looses out are the parents, and ultimately the child.  The school district looks more incompetant from the special needs community – and from the local community at large.

Accept and take the loss, improve what is needed for other kids, and move forward.  More money is spent in litigation – even if it is just a staff lawyer, than just paying what is required by the court.

This case is one of the dozens I’ve heard over the years. And as such I know of parents that aren’t just taking legal action on the schools, but also civil action against each individual person on the IEP team.  After all, each person in the team is in agreement to the IEP.  

As parents we do fight for services regularly, and we are getting more educated on what schools are able to do, and in all honesty, what limitations our local school districts have.  The more honest and open a discussion is regarding what a school can and can’t do – allows for better results long term.

Just imagine if parents and teachers and administrators come together and say, “hey, the school can’t do this” – then we can ask, “what can we do, what are some solutions”

Far fetched?  maybe.

Thank you to those who put in the work and get these IEPs and 504s taken care of.

This, of course, is specific to the United States.  How is it in your school district, or in your country.

Leave a comment, I look forward to your insight.

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The image for today’s episode is by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

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Joel Manzer
Husband to an Amazing Wife, and Father of a Child with Autism. Founding Lead Editor of this site called Autisable. Click here to join Autisable!
Joel Manzer

Joel Manzer

Husband to an Amazing Wife, and Father of a Child with Autism. Founding Lead Editor of this site called Autisable. Click here to join Autisable!

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