Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy

The Special Education Survival Guide by Pam Wright & Pete Wright


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Planning and Preparation Are Your Keys to Success  

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"Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."-John Wooden, UCLA basketball coach

"Can you imagine educating a child with a disability without a master plan? You do not know about the child's disability, how the disability affects the child's learning, or how the child needs to be taught. You do not know what services and supports the child needs."

"You do not know what steps you should take to ensure that your child receives appropriate services. You do not know if your child is making progress. You are not aware of obstacles you may encounter or how to resolve problems. Is it reasonable to think you will figure this out as you go along?" (Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy by Pam and Pete Wright)

If you are like many parents, you are confused about your role.  What do you need to learn? How can you ensure that the school provides your child with quality, appropriate special education services?

You need to understand your role, the school's mission, and how school districts operate. You need to make long-term plans for your child. You need to measure educational progress.

You need to make long-term plans for your child. You are the constant factor in your child's life. You represent your child's interests. If your child does not receive an appropriate education and master the skills necessary to be an independent, self-sufficient member of the community, you will deal with the outcome.

The Parent as Project Manager

Project managers organize, plan, monitor progress, anticipate problems, and ensure that jobs get done. On long complicated projects, a project manager is invaluable.

Your child’s special education is a long-term project. As the parent, you are the logical person to step into the role of special education project manager.

Learn the most common reasons why projects fail, and why you need to make plans, define goals, organize information, and build relationships. Learn about the skills, information and attitude you need to act as your child’s special education project manager.

Set aside time to organize information about your child, make long-term plans, write goals with timelines, and build working relationships with school personnel. View your job You will negotiate with the school on your child's behalf. Your goal is to get the school to provide your child with a good special education program.

The School's Mission

You need to understand the rules of the game - how decisions are made in your district and by whom, and how parents are perceived by school personnel.

The school's mission is to provide all children with a standardized education. School districts use a general curriculum to provide this standardized education to their students. Students are tested periodically to find out if the school is accomplishing this mission (these tests are often called high-stakes tests).

Generally, schools represent their interests. Schools and school boards are concerned about cost and efficiency.

Individualized Programs: Tailored to Unique Needs of Child

Special education is different. School staff and parents are required to design an individualized education program for each child with a disability that is designed to meet that child's unique needs that result from the child's disability. Your child's special education program is described in the Individualized Education Program or IEP.

The IEP includes important information about your child's present levels, the child's needs, goals and objectives, and ways for you and the school to measure your child's progress. The IEP describes the services and supports the school has agreed to provide. (See FAQs about IEPs)

Until now, most parents have been barred from effective advocacy by lack of information and isolation. The Internet is changing the status quo.

Parents who learn about their children’s rights (and their own rights and responsibilities) and learn how to use tactics and strategies are more likely to succeed in getting good services for their children. 

If you are a “new parent,” this Game Plan will help you get started. You need to learn about your child's disability, educational techniques, how to measure progress, how to negotiate, how to use tactics and strategies to negotiate.

Gather Information

To learn about your child's disability, visit disabilities information web sites. Use our Directory of Disabilities Information Organizations.

Download, print, and read these articles from the Wrightslaw Advocacy Library

Crisis! Emergency! HELP!
will help you devise short-term solutions and do long range planning. 

From Emotions to Advocacy: The Parents’ Journey helps parents understand their emotions and how to use emotions as a source of energy and strength. 

Your Child Has School Problems: Whose Fault Is It? teaches you about “school culture” and how this hidden factor affects educational decision-making.

The Art of Writing Letters teaches you how to write letters that get results, and how to avoid common pitfalls. 

Understanding Tests and Measurements for the Parent, Advocate and Attorney teaches you how to measure your child’s progress in special education.

Your Child's IEP: Practical and Legal Guidance for Parents & Advocatesteaches you about the legal requirements for your child’s IEP and how to develop good IEPs. 

The Wrightslaw Advocacy Library has dozens of articles that will help you be a more effective advocate for your child. 

Learn About Rights & Responsibilities

Read this Overview of Rights and Responsibilities published by NICHCY.

Visit the Law Library at Wrightslaw and download the IDEA Statute that includes Pete's commentary. 

Contact your State Department of Education – ask them to send you ALL their publications about special education.

Contact your Parent Training Information Center. Ask them to send you their publications about parent advocacy - and ask if they have any training scheduled.

Contact your state Protection and Advocacy Agency. Ask them to send you their publications about special education.

Get Private Sector Evaluations

Find a private sector expert who can work with you to develop an appropriate program for your child, evaluate your child's progress, and make recommendations to the IEP team about the services your child needs. (See Chapter 2 of Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy for tips about finding evaluators and consultants.) 

Read One Book a Month

Select books in areas where you are least knowledgeable. You will find information about our “Book a Month” plan in the Advocate’s Bookstore at Wrightslaw.com

Subscribe to The Special Ed Advocate Newsletter 

The Special Ed Advocate is a free online newsletter about special education legal issues, cases, tactics and strategy, effective educational methods, and Internet links.

Subscribers to The Special Ed Advocate receive announcements and "alerts" about new cases and news events, new uploads, conference announcements, special offers, and more. 

Join a Self Help Group: Help from the FETA Forum & Wrightslaw Group

If you have questions or need help, visit the Wrightslaw Discussion Group.  

We plan to add a Forum to the FetaWeb site so you can post questions and get answers.  

Special Ed Advocacy Tutorial

Fantastic 8-part tutorial was written for parents who want to advocate for their children by a psychologist, Dr. Leslie Packer. 

You'll learn about the personal qualities of an advocate, basic legal rights under the IDEA and Section 504, Eligibility, Evaluations, Eligibility Meetings, Components of an IEP, Procedural Safeguards (designed to protect your and your child's rights), and discipline issues. 

The tutorial also includes sample letters and forms, a glossary of terms, and links to dozens of resources. 


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