Special Education: Advocating & Otherwise Abled
Author: Michelle Fattig, Ed.S.
Synopsis and Key Points:
Excerpts from a self-published handbook used with the parents advocated for in the special education process.
Michelle Fattig, Ed.S. is a school psychologist and parent advocate with nine years experience. Her varied professional roles have included medical technologist, medical microbiologist, school psychologist, educational consultant, research assistant, school board member, advocate, and parent support provider.
"Please sign here that you have received your rights, and that you understand these rights as presented to you."
WHAT!! My right to remain silent and confused by all that is presented to me
Anything I say may be used for future humiliation if I sound uninformed or illogical
I have the right to an attorney if and when mediation is unsuccessful, but good luck hiring one who truly understands the nuance of special education law? If I cannot afford an attorney, part but not all of my legal expenses may be reimbursed but only if I am successful in defending my child's special education rights
For every parent of a child with special needs who has experienced the great conundrum that is "public education," who has sat across the table (or surrounded at the table) by the professionals going on endlessly about our precious person's needs; seldom focusing on positive aspects of his or her potential, this may seem eerily familiar. Maybe there is a reason that parents start to "accidentally forget" special education meetings or parent teacher conferences? Do schools no longer provide training in "couching" information when presenting to a parent(Couching...a term loosely meaning that a professional start with a positive statement or story, insert the message of concern, and follow up with more positives creating a unified and supportive "team.").
Later we may visit the 5th grade band teacher who could for some unknown reason never deliver positive news. However, the nasty-grams were frequent and utilized extremely poor grammar which I found it necessary to correct and return to her. I don't recommend this method. For those who have experienced this "great divide," may this be a useful guide in understanding and navigating the waters of the special education process.
I am a mother of a special needs child, sister of siblings with "special gifts," and daughter to ...shall we say...special people. I too, falling not far from the tree, struggle with otherwise-abled abilities. Unfortunately, my siblings and I lived in a time and place where our needs were not necessarily understood or dealt with. This being said, and being highly over-educated, I pursued my own child's special needs and rights with a vengeance. Not always, I might add, in his best interest.
Let's just say for the record, I was not always terribly appreciated in my children's schools.
Later we may address the second grade teacher who accused me of stalking her classroom to, apparently, raid her plan book and ruin the class's surprise teddy bear party, time and editor permitting. I could; however, draft and fire off a very realistic and researched brief that could get many an administrator jumping, again, not always necessarily in my child's best interest. Adding case law and legalistic jargon can be quite inciting when utilized appropriately!
Having the "otherwise-abled abilities" that I have, I have jumped from the military, to medical microbiology, to medical technology, to school psychology, to a run at a PhD in special education law/systems enhancement leadership, to a stint on the school board, back to medical technology, and finally back to education (for the moment).
During this frenetic, or as my husband might say...flaky, career path, I realized that my one true passion has remained child advocacy. Having volunteered as an advocate and advocating in the educational system, it made sense that I would make and effort to expand this reach. Many of my colleagues do double duty as an educational professional as well as a parent, sometimes of a special needs child. I have often had the conversation regarding the seeming metamorphosis, which occurs when walking into your own child's I.E.P. meeting or Parent Teacher Conference.
For some reason the doorway to the table becomes a myopic kaleidoscope filled journey, which grows longer with every step taken. A teacher or group of professionals wait at a table with all eyes turned towards you as you make this torturous trek. These people may even be people you work with daily; however, they are now an adversarial pack of wolves waiting to devour you with the latest update of calamity your child may have caused. For some reason the chairs they sit in seem to be of normal height; however, the one at the head of the table left thoughtfully for you, the parent, seems to be roughly that of a kindergarten chair leaving your knees at your chin and the table approximately even with your nose.
I have often wondered what it must be like for a parent without the education background, knowledge, and experience to face this overwhelming situation. When my son was making the transition to high school we had the perfunctory I.E.P. transition meeting, which included high school representatives as well as our "sending" team. At the time I was an elected school board member, doctoral candidate in special education law/systems enhancement leadership, school psychologist and rather ferociously protective mom. The high school "administrative representative" had the audacity to inform me that she could not and would not sign off on the accommodations section of the I.E.P. recommended by his "sending team" because it conflicted with "their policy."
When I asked her for a copy of this policy, which evidently must be important enough to outrank federal policy (tongue in cheek), the person scowled at me and failed to produce said policy. A few weeks later I received a single sheet of paper outlining one teacher's class policy indicating that no late work would be accepted.
These "representatives" actually expected to be able to defy special education federal law, a civil rights mandate, due to a single teacher's feeble classroom rules policy. If they were willing to pull this stunt with me, how would a parent without a rather large mouth have advocated for his or her child? School can be a difficult place for any student regardless of race, socio-economic status, disability, or gender. Advocating for a child with a teacher or school can be a daunting task for any parent. When a child has a disability, the experience can be exponentially greater.
"I feel that you are violating my parental rights and in doing so you are also infringing upon my child's right to her federally mandated free and appropriate public education."
It seems overwhelming and it can very well be!
However, with the right partnerships and supports any parent can be their child's best advocate. My time spent in education as a professional and as a parent (not to mention as a person with disabilities) has been a roller coaster of goods and not so goods.
With enough parent involvement and communication with the schools, you can and will make a difference in the quality of services and supports your child receives!
The ultimate goal of this process is for your child to achieve a productive and fulfilling life as an adult beyond the scope of the school setting. It can be done!
I can remember when I was in Kindergarten through second grade I attended a private school in which I was the only student in my grade. We had Kindergarten through fifth grade in the same classroom. The teacher placed a stove box over my desk with a cutout that faced only her desk. This was an early (and now politically incorrect) way to try and keep me focused. I, of course, immediately decorated the inside with birds, clouds, and sunshine to amuse myself, followed quickly by sawing "windows" in the sides to better talk with my neighbors! My former teacher and I sent each other Christmas cards for many years!
Living and Parenting with Asperger's Syndrome and ADD.
Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet
Michelle is a school psychologist and medical technologist, who volunteers as a parent advocate, and provides professional development to parents and educators, regarding Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Improving Learning for Children with Disabilities (ILCD), Hidden Disabilities, and Response to Intervention (RTI). She is a proud veteran of the Air Force and previous school board member. Michelle has Asperger's Syndrome, Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder, and learning disabilities.
- 1 - Down Syndrome: Information and Birth Likelihood : Disabled World (2009/03/31)
- 2 - Prenatal Testing for Down Syndrome : Children's Hospital Boston (2009/09/14)
- 3 - Visual Intelligence Not the Same as IQ : Vanderbilt University (2017/11/12)
- 4 - Childhood Trauma and Women's Health in Prison : Thomas C. Weiss (2014/04/29)
- 5 - People with Intellectual Disabilities and the Prison System : Thomas C. Weiss (2013/08/02)
- 6 - New Registry to Accelerate Research on Fragile X Syndrome : The Waisman Center (2010/10/06)
- 7 - Behavioral Issues in Lower-income Children Raised in Counties with High Upward Mobility : Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (2017/08/17)
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