Parents of autistic children must become advocates to ensure their children receive appropriate education and special needs services. A successful advocate researches her child’s legal rights, meets regularly with school staff, and documents all events related to her child’s education.
There is a fine line, however, between standing up for your child and his or her rights, and coming across rude and vicious. Unfortunately there will be times throughout your child’s life where he or she will be discriminated against. It’s not fair, but it happens and the best thing that you can do as a parent is represent your child in the best manner possible.
Know the Law
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) makes sure all kids with disabilities have access to the right public education — for free — that can meet their unique needs by emphasizing special education.
IDEA is important for two reasons. First, your child has a legal right to “free appropriate public education.” Second, IDEA requires schools and Departments of Education to treat every special needs child as an individual and unique case, so services offered to one child may not be available to another.
Take the time to read IDEA, or at least a well-written summary, so you know what rights and services you can expect for your child. Check local and state laws governing special needs children as well. Some states offer services over and above those required by IDEA, while others provide the bare minimum.
The Importance of the IEP
Once a year, expect to meet with your child’s teachers, special needs providers, and school administration to review and modify your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), which covers all services and accommodations the child receives for that school year. Services not included in the IEP won’t necessarily be available.
Think of the IEP as a preemptive mosquito trap, where you catch problems before they occur. Listen carefully during the meeting, ask questions and make suggestions. Only remove services from the IEP if you’re certain your child no longer needs them.
Be proactive during IEP meetings. The school may not volunteer services unless you ask for them. Ask about issues such as classroom aides, summer sessions, speech therapy, and similar services.
Forge Alliances with Teachers
The IEP is an excellent time to meet and develop working relationships with your child’s teachers. Let them know that, as a parent of an autistic child, you understand the challenges that arise when teaching a special needs kid, and you appreciate their efforts. A little praise often goes a long way.
Offer to communicate regularly with teachers about classroom issues, either by phone or through email. Teachers usually appreciate parent involvement.
Get Everything in Writing
Follow an old lawyer’s creed: if it isn’t in writing, it never happened. Keep documentation of everything involving your child’s education, including copies of her IEP, specialist visits and education assessments.
Send a written request for any meetings or changes to services, and follow up all meetings with a polite letter. Your goal is to have a clear paper trail in case you need to prove or dispute issues.
Solutions Trump Blame
It’s all too easy to have an antagonistic attitude towards school officials if they seem unwilling to help your child. Accusations and heated words, while tempting, do nothing to help your child. Seek equitable solutions for both yourself and school staff whenever possible, and remain polite no matter what.
Occasionally you will run into a few adults who are not willing to help you or your child. Instead of getting angry, remember to keep your composure and hold your head up high. The last thing you want to do is set a bad example for your child. Take the high road and your child will learn to do the same.
Carly Fierro is an aspiring writer who currently works for a mosquito trap company. In her spare time she loves blogging about anything and everything. She loves that blogging allows her to share her writing with people all over the world.