The whole purpose of special education is to prepare children with disabilities for further education (vocational or college), for work and to live independently.  IDEA was never intended as an adult employment program for babysitting children with disabilities.

Yet all too often, the school gets away with denying very necessary services to help students achieve these goals.  They get away with it because parents are too afraid to insist on the services that their child needs.  One of the biggest obstacles for me advocating effectively is when my client is too accommodating to the school.

I get it.  We spent years in school being conditioned to submit to the authority of school rules and administrators.

When we go to the annual meeting, it is so easy for us to get caught up and soothed by the really nice teacher who is saying really nice things about our child’s progress.  Yet at that same meeting, the speech pathologist suggests cutting necessary speech time, and the administrator denies a request for needed ESY (extended year services).  I’ve seen parents so lulled by nice comments, that they would accept cuts and contort their views as to the services they know their child needs.   Since I work for the parent,  these people pleasing tendencies really limit how I can advocate.

There is seldom a mention that because child is making progress services should continue.  The conversation is usually targeted towards, “Oh, Johnny is making progress, so we can cut this by half.”   Seldom is the conversation geared towards—“Great—the services are working and will help Johnny catch up to grade level.”

Years ago, I was told by my son’s social worker that she had another student in her caseload that really needed a package of services similar to what I had negotiated for my son in junior high.  At the time, he was in full time gen ed classes with no curriculum modifications.  He was receiving

  • an hour of speech a week,
  • 30 min of psychological counseling a week,
  • 15 min of a specialized social skills daily homeroom at the beginning of the day
  • 30 min of OT (to help him manage his locker & which books to take with him for class)

The social worker confided that she had tried to push for the other boy to receive these services but was told no by her administrator.  She then sighed and said that she just couldn’t get the parent to advocate for these services.  So, the boy never received them, and eventually was moved to a more restrictive setting.

Is that happening to your child?  Are there services that your mama/papa bear sense is telling you that your child needs, but you’re reluctant to advocate?

I am not talking about being angry.  In fact, IDEA allows the schools to remove “belligerent” parents.  That means if you yell, insult, or threaten the staff, you could be removed from a meeting.

I’m talking about calmly pointing out your child needs as evidenced by the evaluation and professionally insisting that these needs be met.

Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to see if you tend towards being a people pleaser.

  • Are you relying solely on the school to tell you what services they are able to give your child based on their staffing?
  • Are you reluctant to communicate your concerns with someone’s supervisor? (the speech manager for the district, the special ed director, etc.)
  • Are you allowing the school verbal assurances of your child’s progress to ignore very real concerns you have about lack of progress? (your child seems to be not learning the fundamentals of reading or reading less. . not passing state assessments. . .)
  • Are you allowing the school to continue to use a research-based program even though it doesn’t seem to be working for your child?
  • Are you always giving staff the benefit of the doubt when your child’s IEP goals are not implemented?
  • Do you understand your child’s evaluation and refer to it regularly to articulate what your child needs?
  • Do you allow the school to stall your requests until the end of the semester? The school year? The beginning of the next school year?
  • Do you allow the teacher/special ed coordinator at the school/school administrator to ignore your requests or take over 48 hours to respond to your real concerns?
  • Do you feel reluctant to make a written complaint?
  • Have you ever asked to see data of goal implementation?
  • Do you allow the school to low ball your child’s goals?
  • Have you never spoken to an outside advocate, or parent training group to learn more about your rights?
  • Do you allow the district to use a verbal reference to “it’s our district policy” to do or not do something without confirming that is true?

One of my clients was having trouble getting the teacher to communicate in the daily log about what her son was working on academically in class.  She had asked the teacher directly and been refused.  She had asked the principal and been refused.  She had spoken to the special ed manager for that school, who told the teacher she should do it, but the teacher still refused.  I counseled her to write a TEA (Texas Education Agency) complaint.  She resisted for over 9 months despite being upset about this.  On my third suggestion to file a complaint, she did, and immediately the teacher complied with her request to communicate in the log.

You, as the parent, have an extremely important place on the IEP team, and if the school is ignoring your very real concerns or reasonable requests, then you must put on your advocate hat and insist on what your child needs.  After all, when they graduate, you’ll be the one stuck with filling the skill gaps that the school failed to address.

And if you think getting school services is hard, just wait until they graduate.

Too often, I see the people pleasers allow their concerns to be ignored to the point that they withdraw their child and place them in a private program or they become really angry and destroy the relationship with the school.

If you advocate effectively from the beginning, the chances of these things happening is significantly reduced.  That’s why I created my Speak Up for Your Child Bootcamp.  It IS possible to advocate effectively, have a good relationship with the school, and obtain the services that will allow your child to continue education, find a job, and live independently.

Chances are that there are staff who know that your child needs more and are just waiting for you to advocate for it.  The question is, are you up to it?

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