Advocating for Special Needs Children

Advocating for special needs children can be an intimidating experience.

Assuring that your child is receiving an appropriate education is essential to your child’s development and future success in both school and life. When a child has intellectual, mental or behavioral deficits they will need extra and personally tailored help. Securing an adequate Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a critical task which can make the difference between academic success or failure as well as their likelihood of obtaining any additional disability related assistance such as SSI or DAC benefits from the Social Security Administration.

Advocating for Special Needs Children

If you are the parent of a school aged child with special needs, then you should know that IEP’s tend to be revised every three years with annual meetings in the intervening years. For many, this system works just fine. But, if you feel the need, you can request a new special education assessment. It may be in your child’s best interest to have them assessed more frequently. As children grow and develop their needs change too. It’s important that an appropriate plan be in place and this may mean a revisiting of accommodations, modifications goals or services.

For many good faith reasons, school systems operate on the three-year model of evaluation, but if you determine that that’s not sufficient —you must make a formal request for a “new special education assessment.” The prevailing wisdom is that you want to be three months out from any IEP meeting if you
intend to make that request for a “new special education assessment.”

Send a letter to the resource team requesting the assessment

You’ll also want to write a separate letter requesting the education records which would include IEP’s, assessments, report cards, state achievement tests, and any emails or notes that the teachers may keep.

After the school processes your request, they will send an assessment plan to you, informing you of the sorts of tests that they intend to administer. Sign off on it, if you agree with the plan. If you don’t agree with the proposed testing, you will want to make the school aware of your concerns. The school will send you a notice of the IEP meeting 30 days prior and should work with you to come up with a mutually acceptable time. You can bring a friend, advocate or a lawyer to the meeting.

As we’ve mentioned, advocating for special needs children can feel intimidating; however, if you choose to proceed alone, you should organize your thoughts well in advance. It may be possible to have a pre-conference call with the case manager to get a preview of what the school is intending to do. You can present reports from outside sources; many special needs children are involved with various private therapy’s. These professionals can create useful and helpful reports. You can also seek out the teachers and therapists at your child’s school, prior to the IEP meeting, to exchange information, and influence the process.

One particularly useful set of data are service logs. You must ensure that accommodations and modifications for your child have been followed. If you make the determination, that you have specific requests for services, goals, needs and placements, be sure to put them in writing and send them to the school in advance of the meeting.

The IEP Meeting

Then of course there’s the meeting- make no mistake, they are stressful. But, remember the people sitting around the table are the ones who work with and care for your child, keep that in mind. Resist the urge to treat them as the adversary even if you think that the school is trying to take a service away to save money, it won’t help your child if things go sour… my dear old dad, who was a teacher in Chicago public school system for 25 years always used to tell me: “always be polite with the teachers, they are the ones that give you the grades.”

When all is said and done they will have a report that they will ask you to sign, you do not need to sign it that day, you should not feel at all awkward about saying you want to take it home and review and reflect upon it, that is the prudent thing to do. Remember, this is part of the process of advocating for a special needs children.

If you object and file for “due process” your child will be under a “stay put” order until an agreement is reached… Meaning the status quo will apply and the school must continue to do what they were doing before.

And much like submitting private reports, one can request an independent educational evaluation (IEE). The difference here is, the school district is supposed to pay for the IEE. If it does come to this, you really should get a lawyer as a due process complaint will need to be filed. While this may seem tedious this knowledge is critical when advocating for special needs children.

For information as it relates to autism, you can read our Tips on Autism

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