10 Tips on How to Navigate the Special Education System

FAPESpecial Education can present sticky situations when it comes to services, funding, and finding the right school fit. Anyone who works in the schools or has been a part of the IEP circle in some respect knows that it’s no secret getting services for your child can be an uphill battle. Don’t worry– we’re here to help you navigate the system in a collaborative and compassionate manner.

Here’s what you need to know: (Download our Special Education Advocacy PowerPoint)

1. Know Your Acronyms & Case Law So You Can Speak the Special Ed Lingo: FAPE, IDEA, IFSP, IEP, IEE, LRE, SELPA; Board of Ed. v Rowley, 458 US 176 (1982) aka The Cadillac v Chevrolet argument

2. Regional Center to Public School Transition: Birth to 36 months = ECI Services; 36 months to 21 Years: Services through the Public School

3. Understand the IEP Process:

  • Qualifying Disability as defined by 20 U.S.C. sec. 1401 (3)(A)
  • Request for Referral for an Evaluation
  • Public School Approves or Denies the Request: If Approved then there is Psycho-Educational Testing v. If Denied: Appeal and IEE Option
  • School is looking at where your child falls on the Standard Deviation Bell Curve
  • Annual IEP Meeting but you can ask for more
  • Tri-Annual (every 3 years) Evaluation of new Psycho-Educational Testing
  • Know Your PLOP Goals: Measurable & Realistic

4.  Is ADD/ADHD Part of Special Ed? No.: Not considered part of Special Ed but can get 504 Plan, which governs accommodations. So how do you get services for children diagnosed with ADHD? Must pair the diagnosis with a qualifying disability as defined under 20 U.S.C. section 1401 (3)(A).

5. New DSM Info About Autism: New DSM does away with Asperger’s and PDD-NOS. Instead there is one umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder with various severity levels.

6. What Services Are You Asking For? OT, PT, SLP, Resource; usually Pull-Out services in Group with 3-4 students for 30 minutes 1-2 times per week; Push In Classroom Services v Pull Out Group or Individual Services

7. What’s Inclusion & Mainstreaming: It began in the 80’s and is the public education’s choice form of classroom methodology– mixed learning abilities in a general education classroom with a general education teacher

8. Parent Rights:

  • You do not have to test your child.
  • You do not have to sign the IEP at the Meeting
  • You can ask for more than one IEP per year
  • You can ask to observe your child and the therapy
  • You can ask for a copy of the report and testing
  • You can ask for additional hours and services

9. Alternatives to Traditional Public Education: (1) Paid by the State: Homeschooling, Charters; (2) Paid by the District: Non-Public Schools; (3) Private Pay: Private School, possible tuition reimbursement under Burlington School Committee v. Dept. of Ed, 471 US 379 (1985)

10. To Sum it up:

  • If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.
  • You don’t have to sign the IEP at the IEP Meeting.
  • You have more rights than you know.
  • Your job is to know the law and fight for your child’s rights in a collaborative manner.
  • You can be your child’s own advocate!

All in all, you must be your child’s own advocate but sometimes you need a little help along the way. That’s where we come in.

We focus on identifying your child’s areas of needed support, qualifying for assessments and evaluations through the school district or the state regional center, attending and reviewing Student Success Team (SST) & Individualized Education Program (IEP) Meetings at the school, Coordinating Care between all public and private service providers, teaching you how to navigate the education and state systems, and teaching your child self-advocacy.

Because when all is said and done, the end goal is for your child to be self-sufficient–they just need a little help along the way, and that’s okay.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

Find Your Place

my place To find your place in this “crazy, mixed up world” is a significant triumph. How do you know that you’ve stumbled upon it? Maybe by process of elimination of all other existing pathways that lead to the same endpoint. Maybe you just like hanging out there. Whatever the reason, you know that you have found your place because it feels like home.

For a child who feels like they don’t fit anywhere, however, finding their place becomes that much more important. Connection is the foundation of belonging, and it takes time to build those relationships. So once they’ve found their place, it’s a good thing to put down some roots, stay in one spot, and help them cultivate those connections.

This is not an easy thing to do. I should know because staying in one spot has never been my forte. See, I’m a mover and shaker. I like to mix things up and travel, live abroad, have a garage sale and take only what I could fit into my little Corolla. Throughout my travels, I was fortunate to make a lot of connections and friendships around the world, but it wasn’t until later on that I saw the value in putting down roots. Somewhere along the way I realized that without stable connections there is no community.

For our kiddos who struggle with initiating connections and having community, we must think long-term from the get go. How will my child, my student, my patient perceive themselves in 10 years based on the community they are in right now? As we all know, it’s not about the quantity of friends but rather the quality. Really, we just need one good friend, like we talked about here. Undoubtedly, connections define how we fit in our group, and our groups are the foundation of our security and self-confidence. Children who struggle with a learning difference, behavior challenge, or social skills need often struggle more with the complexity of where they fit amongst their peer group. But like their typically developing peers, their self-esteem is also wrapped up in what their friends think of them, which, if negative, can impact their self-identity in the long-term. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that your child is making connections with the right group and has the right community to fit their needs. They, too, need to find their place–their home away from home.

When I look back at all my travels, I am grateful I had the chance to meet and greet so many different types of people and feel connected in the short-term. Now that I’ve come to the point in life where I am happy to stay put, I realize the value even more in forming lasting relationships, community, and connection. I’ve finally found my place, and it feels good to say that I’m home.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student, combining Academic Support, Behavior Support, and Education Advocacy to bridge the gap between home and school in order to serve the whole student. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com

Learning versus Thinking

learning v thinkingLet’s be clear: School is not just about learning but also about social conformity. For example, we must line up to go outside for recess, write our essays in MLA format, eat lunch at a certain time during the day, follow a schedule, participate by raising our hands, and I’m sure you can think of countless other examples. Because I work with kids whose social “deficits” cloud their ability to participate in a traditional classroom, I often wonder: Are we teaching our students to think for themselves or learn by example?

The short of the argument is that students need to learn both critical thinking and social modeling to live and work in the society we’ve created. However, where we struggle in our educational culture is letting the thing kids are passionate about doing, define their learning career. And no, I’m talking about video games 🙂

All too often the thinking skill in our classroom is put aside in favor of following the social cues. Some will argue this comes from our industrialization of education, modeled after Ford’s Model T Assembly Line technique. Others will argue that EQ (the Emotional Quotient) is more important than remembering facts and figures because how we interact with others on a basic human, social level will ultimately determine our success.

I’d like to think that we’re teaching our students to question, rather than just blindly obey. But I’m not sure. For that reason, I’m fascinated by the progressive school movement, which sprung from many homeschooling groups. In general, they believe in a multidisciplinary model of education. This means that independent learning, self-directed study, and outside of the classroom settings are the backdrop to thinking creatively–outside the box– and therefore guiding our students towards their own individual definition of success rather than a set standard of achievement.

As a public school graduate, myself, I followed the traditional classroom model all the way through law school; there is something to be said for teaching our kids to follow the leader. More often than not, however, there is a creative potential in all kids that may get lost along the way, thinking that the expected path is the best path. It happened to me.

I chose my educational journey, my parents did not choose it for me. In fact, they encouraged exploration and defining my career path by my talents and strengths. I was the one who had an exact idea of what success looked like, and I decided early on in my education that I wanted to achieve that set standard. It was only later, after graduation and the recession of 2008, that I started to really think outside of the box and combine my skills to create a company founded on collaboration–an intuitive but outside-of-the-box approach in special education advocacy and education in general.

Did I have this potential all along? Could I have tapped into it sooner if I hadn’t already decided that I wanted a pre-determined notion of success?

The point being is that we’re all born with unique gifts and talents, but our human desire to socially be accepted often overrides our ability to follow our own path. Those students who feel like outsiders, or are treated as such, are the ones that, if nurtured, end up not following the crowd and doing something outside of the box–something uniquely innovative. We, as educators, should cultivate those critical thinking skills and applaud our students when they come up with a novel idea. Although needed, we should place less emphasis on conformity and more on developing an individual’s talents because when it comes down to it, following the crowd will only take you as far as the person in front of you goes.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student, combining Academic Support, Behavior Support, and Education Advocacy to bridge the gap between home and school in order to serve the whole student. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com