7 Things Warrior Parents Accomplish in Special Education
By: Meena Tadimeti @meenatadimeti
Parent advocates in special education know ‘what’ needs to get done but struggle at times to know ‘how’ to do it. We recognize the importance of identifying our children’s learning opportunities or monitoring their provider services. But how do you go about achieving high results like the parents with strong advocacy skills, the ones who get so much more accomplished behind the scenes?
Enter, warrior parents. Over the past fifteen years as a parent to a child with special needs, I’ve been curious to know how some parents achieve so much more with grit, courage, vigor and common sense as advocates in special education.
These parents seek victory consistently, unwilling to move from their line of thinking and distrust everything they are told about the system and delivery of special education to their children.
Granted each of us has our style of advocating and no one way will win out always in the end. Here are some specific things that parents armed with the knowledge in basic special education rights and strong advocacy skills do in the early weeks of school reopening.
Their overall strategy is to maximize their child’s learning opportunities, understand how to reinforce concepts taught in school, and avoid delays in provider services early in the school year, and they do it with an indomitable spirit.
Here’s a glimpse into their best practices and tips:
- OBSERVING NEW ENVIRONMENTS: They visit and observe their child’s learning site from day one. They carefully watch and take notes during service provider sessions, class times, para sessions, lunch times and make frequent visits to the classroom. Picking up or dropping off their children (even in high school) inside classrooms are common habits among these parents which allow them to engage with the teachers more frequently.
Goal: Identify issues that need attention early on.
- ENSURING SUPPORTS ROLLOVER: They review their child’s list of “items” from the previous IEP to make sure that the agreed upon items continue to rollover into the current year. (i.e., assistive technology devices, BIP, transportation, modified curriculum, paraprofessional, sensory and visual supports, substitute para plan, iPad usage, laptop, timer, gait belt, communication logs, etc..). We all know that delay is the biggest enemy.
Goal: Minimize delay in learning opportunities.
- ASKING FOR SERVICE PROVIDERS’ DETAILS: They gather service providers’ contact information, their dates and times of service in the first week and ask what logs exist that capture provider visits and absences. Services should begin in week one (the program specialist, the district administrator is responsible for the flow of all IEP services) unless stipulated differently in the IEP.
Goal: Get Provider Services Started Right Away.
- CONNECTING WITH SERVICE PROVIDERS & TEACHERS: They communicate with all service providers about the day, time and duration of their visits in week one via email/phone. When services don’t begin in week one, contact the program specialist right away. Furthermore, cross check the service minutes with the agreed upon terms in the IEP for any inconsistencies. And find out from the teacher her preferred way of communication; nowadays, many prefer texting.
Goal: Receive final class schedule.
- ADDRESSING ISSUES IN PERSON OR EMAIL: They regularly correspond with the teacher and program specialist starting in week one. Always ask for a specific date when issues will be resolved and follow up on that date. With so many moving parts to the IEP team, things don’t always move efficiently, but your email will help them take notice. The longer you wait, the harder it is to turn things around. Delay is everyone’s enemy.
Goal: Build Strong Relationships.
- ASKING ABOUT UPCOMING EVENTS: Ask about dates for back-to-school night, teacher-parent conferences or minimum days. Don’t miss the back-to-school night to ask your questions, meet other parents and find out how to volunteer in the classroom or remotely.
Goal: Get Involved.
- FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH SCHOOL’S DISCIPLINARY PROCEDURES and EMERGENCY DRILLS: Get a copy of the school’s policy and procedure on disciplinary actions. It’s important to know what methods will be used to discipline your child and how you’ll be notified. Your child may never get sent to the principal’s office, but it’s important to know how undesired classroom behavior will be handled particularly when a behavior intervention plan (BIP) isn’t in the IEP for your child. Get a copy of the school’s fire and lockdown drills and speak to your child about being safe and how that looks like at school.
Goal: Understand school’s disciplinary policy.
If you haven’t thought of adopting some of these successful tactics, grab this checklist and get going. Most parents are led to believe that it takes a couple of weeks or a month for things to be aligned for their child after school reopens, so they don’t get started on advocating for their child from day one. Big mistake.
Parents need to make sure that flow of services begins early on. The quicker you take the time to observe, communicate and follow-up on issues of concern, interest, and support, the faster you can minimize the delay in services for your child.
What differentiates parents getting high results from those with barely adequate results? Questioning with authenticity and RESPECT, being persistent, consistent, timely with solving issues at hand and growing your understanding of special ed. rights. Granted, it’s hard work and a huge commitment, but if not you and then who? And if not now, then when?
Remember, advocating for appropriate tools and supports in place for your child and monitoring its implementation will only increase the likelihood of your child achieving his/her IEP goals which should be the top strategy for parents.
Being a high-level advocate means going to the next level for your child.
As a parent or caregiver, what have you done in the early weeks of school to ensure that your child has a successful school year? We like to hear your thoughts. firstname.lastname@example.org
Meena Tadimeti is the founder and executive director of specialneedsinmycity.org, an online organization educating and providing support for families of children with special needs. Meena is a mother to a child with special needs. You can find her podcast in the Itunes; Special Needs in my city Podcast.