Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy

The Special Education Survival Guide by Pam Wright & Pete Wright

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Crisis Management, Step-By Step

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two women at start of race The battles parents fight with school districts are similar to the battles parents are fighting with their HMOs and managed care plans.

Good special education services are intensive, individualized and expensive. Like insurance companies, school districts try to limit access to costly services.

School staff believe they are “the experts” in educating children. School personnel may be threatened by strong, articulate parents who are active advocates for their children.

How do schools deal with perceived threats? Some schools try to limit parents’ ability to advocate for their children. To learn more about this subject, read our articles about the amazing power of school culture. LINK

To Prevent Litigation, Prepare for Litigation

If you are like most parents, you do not need an attorney. The key to resolving special disputes is preparation, preparation and more preparation.

As a parent, your goals are to prevent problems when possible and to minimize the seriousness of those problems you cannot prevent.

Our Prevention Model of Special Education Advocacy is based on the “prepare for litigation” approach to civil litigation.

You do not initiate a battle to secure appropriate special education services until you have a good chance of prevailing and you can prevail without damaging your child.

Many parents say, “But look at the damage they are doing to my child. This must stop immediately!”

I reply, “To start a fight when you have no ammunition, your guns are unloaded, you have not assessed their weapons and location, and you don’t know where the high ground is, is more damaging in the end.”

To charge up the enemy’s hill is foolhardy. Yet this is the course many parents take when they try to advocate for their children.

In most cases, children are stronger and more resilient than parents realize. If children know we believe in them, they can endure short-term pain to realize long-term benefit.

Managing a Crisis

A crisis hits! What should you do?

For the first few days, DO NOTHING!

At the beginning of a crisis, you will feel emotionally overwhelmed. You may believe you must DO SOMETHING! If you act, you are likely to shoot wildly from the hip before aiming, expending all your ammunition before the opposition fires a shot. When the opposition opens fire, you will be exposed and vulnerable.

SLOW DOWN! Think first, act later. Regroup. Analyze the battleground. Make rational decisions about the weapons you will use. Locate the high ground. Plot your strategy so you can take the hill and prevail, without firing a shot or taking casualties.

Your Long-range Planning

Use your energy to prepare. Focus on short-term solutions and long-range planning. Do your long-range planning first.

Begin Your Program of Self-Study

You need to learn about the nature of your child’s disability, how your child learns, and how your child should be taught. You also need to learn about your legal rights and responsibilities.

Learn About Legal Rights and Responsibilities

Using a highlighter, read and re-read the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Attach sticky notes to the pages that relate to your child’s situation.

Wrightslaw: Special Education Law (ISBN: 1-892320-03-7) is a legal reference book that includes the full text of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA regulations, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and decisions in special education cases from the U. S. Supreme Court.

You can download the special education regulations from the Wrightslaw site and from other sites, including the U. S. Department of Education website

Your State Department of Education

Call the Special Education Division of your State Department of Education. Use our Directory of State Departments of Education  for contact information.

Ask for a copy of your state special education laws, regulations, and guidelines. Request that they send you all material they publish about special education, IEPs, and Section 504 programs. Visit their web site.

Your State Protection and Advocacy Office

Your state has an independently operated and funded Protection and Advocacy Office that is not affiliated with the state Department of Education.

Contact your state P & A Office and request their publications about special education, IEPs, and parent rights and responsibilities.

Your Parent Training and Information Center

Contact your state Parent Training and Information Center. Request their information about advocacy. Check our Directory of PTIs for the office nearest you.

Learn About Your Child's Disability and Educational Needs

You need accurate information about your child’s disability, how your child learns, and how your child needs to be taught.

Meet with Educational Consultant

Schedule a consultation with a psychologist or educational diagnostician in the private sector. Provide your consultant with a copy of your child’s file and test history. Ask your consultant to educate you about your child's disability and your child's educational needs.

Get a Comprehensive Private Sector Evaluation

Get a comprehensive evaluation of your child from an independent expert in the private sector. The purpose of this evaluation is to identify your child’s problems and develop a comprehensive plan to address these problems. Before you can make decisions about your child’s special education program, you need accurate diagnostic information about the child’s disability, strengths and weaknesses.

Use Tactics & Strategy

To resolve problems successfully, you need to understand how schools work and how school culture affects decision-making. You must learn to turn lemons into lemonade – how to turn a negative event into a positive opportunity to secure services for your child. For ideas about how to use tactics and strategy to get better services, read The Art of Writing Letters.

Control Your Emotions

You must keep your emotions under control! If you confide in school staff and share your feelings with them, you become vulnerable. If you obsess about unfairness and revenge, you will shoot yourself in the foot.

Spend your energy thinking, planning, and preparing. When you prepare, it is harder for you to shoot yourself in the foot.

Use your emotions as a source of energy and motivation. Your emotions will keep you moving, step by step, to high ground.

Short-Term Relief

Now, it’s time to look at short-term relief. Put your child’s self-esteem at the top of your list.

When children with disabilities struggle and fail, many decide that they are losers. Your child must feels your love and concern, even though some behavior is unacceptable.

During a school crisis, family stress is high. Many families consult with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker in the private sector. Your goals are to reduce stress, improve communication, and provide support to the family.

Examine Your Personal Beliefs

Examine your beliefs about your child and your child’s disability. Do you feel sorry for your child? Do you feel guilt about your child’s problems? As you try to protect your child from painful experiences, have you become over-protective?

Will pity, guilt, and over-protectiveness help your child become an emotionally healthy adults?

Children with disabilities learn differently. Because they learn differently, they must be taught differently. When they are taught correctly, they can and do learn.

Your Journey from Emotions to Advocacy

On your journey from emotions to advocacy, you’ll learn about your child’s disability, educational and remediation techniques, how to measure educational progress, IEPs, and how to artfully advocate.

You are not alone. Other parents have traveled down this road. They walked on the same paths. Follow their footsteps.

Build a network of people who can help. Connect with other parents – they are always your best resource.


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