From the moment Norrin was diagnosed with autism, I knew I had to be his advocate. I didn’t have a background in special education and I no clue how the system worked but I knew I had to learn.
NOTE: This is not meant to be legal advice. I am not an attorney or a (professional) special education advocate. Just wanted to share the resources and things that have helped me advocate for my son.
I remember sitting through our first IFSP meeting. I practically memorized the evaluations. Pages were tabbed, sections highlighted and my scribbles filled the margins. One of the coordinators offered less than what was initially recommended. And I said something like, “On page 16, it says…” I think everyone in the room was surprised. That was the moment I knew I couldn’t rely on anyone to secure the services my son needed.
But it was the year Norrin was going through the Turning 5 process and his first year of Kindergarten that I really had to fight. I couldn’t afford a special education attorney and while I did work with a special education consultant, I couldn’t really afford to have her attend meetings with me. So I spent a lot of time reading, researching and writing letters. When it came time to sue the Department of Education, I felt confident in my ability to advocate for Norrin.
6 Books* To Help You Advocate for Your Child with Autism
*contains Amazon affiliate links
Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition “provides a clear roadmap to the laws and how to get better services for all children with disabilities.” There is no need to read this book from cover to cover, it’s simply a reference point. It’s easy to understand and gives parents a better understanding fo the law. It is a must have resource and one that I refer to time and time again.
Wrightslaw: All About IEPs. If you have a child with autism or any other special need, chances are you will need to attend an IEP meeting. “In this comprehensive, easy to read book, you will find clear, concise answers to frequently asked questions about IEPs. Learn what the law says about IEP Teams and IEP Meetings, Parental Rights and Consent, Steps in Developing the IEP, Placement, Transition, Assistive Technology and Strategies to Resolve Disagreements.”
Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy: The Special Education Survival Guide. I think one of the hardest things about this process is keeping your emotions in check. As a parent, it’s difficult to sit through any of these meetings without getting emotional. And trust me, I’ve gotten emotional. But even when emotional, I never allowed my emotions to completely take over. This book really helped to understand that I can still express my love and concern for my child while still being a strong advocate.
“… you will learn your child’s disability and educational needs, how to create a simple method for organizing your child’s file and devising a master plan for your child’s special education. You will understand parent-school conflict, how to create paper trails and effective letter writing. This book includes dozens of worksheets, forms and sample letters that you can tailor to your needs.”
How To Compromise With Your School District Without Compromising Your Child: A Field Guide For Getting Effective Services For Children With Special Needs. It can feel like everything is a huge battle. There was a time when everything was. I was always writing letters and requesting meetings. Over the years, I’ve learned it’s all about picking and choosing your battles. You have to be willing to compromise with your school district. And compromise isn’t always such a bad thing.
The Complete IEP Guide: How to Advocate for Your Special Ed Child. This is a book I still refer to when prepping for an IEP meeting especially as Norrin’s educational needs change. The Complete EIP guide is a valuable resource for parents with “all the forms, sample letters, and resources that you could possibly need at any stage of the IEP process.”
The Everyday Advocate: Standing Up for Your Child with Autism or Other Special Needs. What I especially love about this book is that it’s written by Areva Martin Esq., an attorney and the mother of an autistic child. Martin provides “step-by-step instructions on how parents can assert themselves – with doctors, teachers, school officials, neighbors, or even family members – and get the best results for their child.”
Online Resources To Help You Advocate
Advocates for Children
- A Guide to Help You Advocate for Your Child’s Educational Rights Listening & Advocacy Tips
- Guide to Special Education
IDEA “The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.”
Due Process Complaint in Details.”Due process is a longstanding approach within IDEA to resolving disputes. This article will take you through the key points and content of IDEA’s provisions regarding due process complaints.” via Center for Parent Information and Resources
Parent to Parent. If you’re looking to connect with other parents who have been there, done that Parent 2 Parent is an excellent resource. There is nothing like talking to a parent who truly understands what you are going through. For NYS visit – parenttoparentnys.org
Tips to Make Advocating for Your Child Easier
Keep Notes. It’s impossible to remember it all. DOCUMENT EVERYTHING! So if you make a phone call or send a letter – keep a log of everything. If calls or letters go unanswered, keep a note of that too.
Put it in Writing. Phone calls are great but after every phone, follow up with an email and/or fax. I usually start with “As per our conversation on [fill in the date]…” and then write everything discussed during your call. From Emotions to Advocacy and The Complete Guide to IEPs have great samples on how to write a letter.
Scan & Save Documents (on a Flash Drive and/or Email to Yourself). As a working parent, I did a lot of my correspondence during the day. I didn’t want to constantly carry around Norrin’s paperwork, so I started scanning all of his docs and keeping them on a flash drive. If I needed to reference a document or email to someone, I always had it with me.
Never Go to a Meeting Alone. You will want someone with you not only for moral support but also to keep track of everything that goes on during the meeting.
What tips, online resources or books have been helpful to you?