Advising New Parents — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

Advising New Parents

by Deborah


It’s that time of year again – time to buy school supplies, Fall clothes, and healthy snacks for the school lunch box. It’s time to pay the exorbitant school fees for our children’s FREE education. And it’s time for parents of children with disabilities to see if they will face more battles with their school districts while trying to ensure their children receive an appropriate education.

I remember when my first child with disabilities entered the public school system. I was naïve and assumed everyone would love my child as much as I did, and would want to do everything they could to make her school experience a positive one. Along the way to high school where that youngest child now attends, I learned that her educational journey would not always be rainbows and unicorns.

If you could talk to that parent I was back then – the parent who trusted and believed in her educational system and its commitment to ALL children – what would you say? What would your advice be to new parent of children with disabilities, children who will start preschool or kindergarten this year?

Here’s my contribution to that parent, and please share yours in the comments:

Believe that your school district will care for your child. Believe they will always do what they can to ensure your child receives an appropriate education. But, document any issues – no matter how small. Prepare as if you will be one day be going to due process against your school district, but hope you never have to travel that path. That piece of advice, given to me so many years ago, made all the difference to my child. 99% of parents who take their school districts to due process lose. I prevailed at due process and my daughter did receive the education to which she was entitled because I followed that advice given to me over 13 years ago.

Email Author    |    Website About Deborah

In addition to her job as a computer engineer and her single parent responsibilities, Deborah is president of a state-wide family support group for families whose lives are touched by deafblindness, and is a tireless advocate for all people with disabilities. She writes at Pipe Cleaner Dreams and her writing has also been featured in local magazines and newspapers. Ashley’s story has also been chronicled in a book by Jonathan Mooney titled Short Bus Stories.

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1 KDL September 1, 2010 at 4:34 pm

My favorite advice to give to parents who are just starting all of this is:
1) Always take someone with you to your IEP meetings. If nothing else they can take notes while you talk, listen, read reports, and advocate for your child.
2) Never sign to approve the IEP until you’ve had some time to think about it. You are required to sign that you were present, but you don’t have to approve it until you are ready to do so.
3) Don’t expect the school to diagnose your child. That is not their role. If you already have a diagnosis or don’t care to establish a diagnosis you can just advocate for the best services for your child. If you don’t have a diagnosis and want one, and particularly if your child is more complex it’s best (in my opinion) to seek outside professional care. This will if nothing else, arm you with more information to advocate for your child’s services.

2 The Best Policy September 2, 2010 at 2:34 am

If you need to have a “meeting” over any issue where there’s contention, memorialize the major points covered in said meeting in an email to the concerned parties after the fact, and perhaps an additional administration official–the principal or assistant or discipline officer, if there is one. EXAMPLE: Thank you for meeting with me about the issue with Fred’s aide. Fred’s aide was leaving Fred in the hallway for inordinate periods of time while she went to the bathroom and he was being subjected to cruel behavior by students. This has happened at least four times since the start of the school year. Mrs. Jones, the principal, has assured me that this will not happen again, and if Miss Smith, the aide, needs to visit the restroom, she will find someone to stay with Fred or ensure he’s delivered to his classroom and is under the positive direction of the teacher or another aide before she takes a break. If there’s anything I have missed please let me know. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. Copy to: Principal, Teacher, Aide, Assistant Principal, File.

Or something like that–if you send them an email telling them what YOU got out of the meeting, and they don’t object or tell you “Oh, no, that’s not what we agreed to,” then you’ve got something to wave in their faces if they try to pretend that they didn’t mean what they said. It’s a CYA strategy that I strongly recommend. Always be positive and temperate in the emails–never come off as pissy or outraged, don’t get personally insulting, it never translates well. The most you should be is firm.


3 Jo September 2, 2010 at 6:19 am

I arrange to meet with the teacher in about the second week of school. I have learnt now to first ask them 1) What do you understand about my son’s medical condition and how it may affect him.
2) DO NOT assume that the teacher has read the information in you child’s file.

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