Author: Dana Lee

How to Advocate for Paraprofessional Support

Wondering if a paraprofessional is the right support for your exceptional child?

Florida special education attorney Mark Kamleiter has some thoughts. Here, he offers advice on how to determine if this is the right path for your child. If it is, consider his suggestions for moving forward with your child’s IEP team.


Obtaining paraprofessional support for children with disabilities is one of the most difficult and trying issues advocates have to deal with.  The costs of such services, as well as possibly genuine concern about the child’s independence, may cause schools to have a natural resistance to approving additional paraprofessional help for children.  Some districts require that paraprofessional services be approved by some district committee or administrator outside of the IEP process (see last paragraph).

 

This article has been drafted to help parents understand the appropriate role of an educational paraprofessional and to better comprehend the process of obtaining paraprofessional support where it is needed.

 

It is educational support you want – not a paraprofessional:  In the past, during easier financial times for school districts, it was not too difficult to request and obtain one-on-one paraprofessional support for a student who needs it.  Schools routinely wrote one-on-one services onto to IEPs.  Then as money became much tighter many districts began to refuse to place paraprofessional support on the IEP.  Even where they agree in general terms to put a paraprofessional in the classroom, districts tend to refer to “support to the teacher” rather than to the student.  This has caused parents to panic, fearing that their children would not receive their necessary support.

 

In order to receive direct paraprofessional support today, parents and advocates must approach the issue from a more indirect, but fundamentally educational perspective.  The law requires schools to provide appropriate “supplementary aids and services,” which are necessary for the child to be successful in the “least restrictive environment.” 20 U.S.C. §1412 A (5); 34 C.F.R. § 300.550 to § 300.556.   This means that today the focus of the parent’s request needs to be more on the actual precise educational “supplementary aids and services” or supports that the child requires for successful education, rather than upon the individual who will provide the supports.  Unless the parent or advocate clearly establishes within the IEP the exact nature and extent of the educational supports needed by the child, it is unlikely that they will be successful in obtaining the paraprofessional support sought.

 

Below I have listed some of the possible educational “supplementary aids and services” that a child might require.  You may think of other supports your child needs.  Some of those listed here may not be appropriate for your child, but they are representative of the needs of many children requiring paraprofessional support. When I write to the school district or sit in an IEP meeting, I focus entirely on the child’s specific support needs.  This is usually an effective way of signaling that additional educational resources (paraprofessional) must be provided to the child.   Notice the emphasis in the following list upon identifying the frequency, proximity, duration that the support is needed.  (Before trying to use this list, it is important to review each of the suggestions for appropriateness for the specific student).

 

Educational Supports:  Educationally, the student will require close proximity support and attention.  Some of his/her educational support needs include, but are not limited to:

 

  1. Frequent, positive reinforcement throughout all activities.This reinforcement needs to be implemented on a very frequent reinforcement schedule (every ___ minutes/secs.) for successful transitions, initiation of tasks, attention and focus on tasks, and completion of tasks.  This will need to be coordinated with his behavior intervention plan (if appropriate).  (I would insist upon having an actually reinforcement schedule and requiring data collection).
  2. Visual prompts and aids.The student requires the creation of and the constant and continual use of visual aids to learning and understanding.  These are an essential part of his learning and functioning processes.  This includes not only a daily visual schedule, but also visual guides for his various tasks throughout the school day and across all settings.  Such guides and aids need to be kept up to date and should be created for each day’s tasks and functions.
  3. Prompts:  The student requires continual and constant prompts and cues.  He is very easily distracted and if ever left to his own, he may immediately “zone out” or busy himself with self-stimulation or other non-productive behaviors. Excessive down-time is educationally harmful for this child.  (I would require data collection on the use of prompts, indicating what type of prompts (visual, verbal, physical) and the frequency of the prompts).
  4. Checking for comprehension:  As the student begins each task someone will check for comprehension and provide redirection as needed. This checking should be repeated several times during the course of the task completion.
  5. Toileting(only if appropriate): The student requires individual attention to help him developing his personal daily help skills and toileting. This requires use of visual guides, schedules, verbal and physical prompts and reinforcement.  I would require data collection on the prompting and success.
  6. Communication:Although the student is verbal he/she requires constant and continual facilitation and prompting relative to his communication.  This is needed to help him channel his communication toward more productive and socially acceptable ways of expressing himself.  He needs active, planned and unplanned facilitation to help him communicate with and interact appropriately with his peers. He needs help with pragmatic language (checking for understanding, explanation of meaning). This needs to be across all settings.  Again, data collection is key.  We need to know how often he is being facilitated in his communications with peers and some information on the prompting being used.
  7. Social/Behavioral:The student requires direct planned and unplanned facilitation in interacting effectively with other students.  Again this facilitation needs to take place frequently and continually across all settings.  He needs the daily and regular presentation of social stories to help him understand social situations and interactions.  These stories will help him understand classroom expectations and to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. We need data collection as to the daily interactions, prompts, etc.
  8. Intense Instruction:Despite his intelligence, the student learns best with high intensity, sequential, behaviorally reinforced instruction, through discrete trials, based on the principles of ABA.  Nathan needs to receive at least ___ hours of this intensive instruction each day. Data collection needed.

 

You will note that I do not presume to dictate who shall provide the services, but instead stress what must be done to support the child, how often (frequency) the supports must be given, and whether the support must be in proximity.  These services may be provided by the teacher, a classroom paraprofessional, or a one-on-one paraprofessional.  The key is that they be provided every regularly, consistently and at every point of need.

 

Sometimes IEP teams will say that they can provide these supports, without adding a paraprofessional to the class.  The reality is that no teacher, even with the help of a general classroom paraprofessional could adequately accomplish the list supports provided above.  Insisting upon data collection and review of the data is a good way to verify the actual provision of services.  If there are real questions as to whether these supports are necessary or as to whether the supports are actually being provided, I find it wise to send in an educational consultant to do classroom observations.  Although parents worry that the school will put on “a dog and pony show” for the consultant (which they will), the truth is that it will usually be pretty obvious to a trained observer if the staff are doing things they do not usually do.

 

The Question of Independence: Invariably the educators on the IEP team will argue that they do not want to provide one-on-one support for a student because it is important that the child become independent.  This position can be infuriating for parents, who want more than anything for their child to be independent and who resent the school’s self-righteous posturing.  I have listed below some ways to deal with the “independence” argument.

 

  1. First make a clear statement that you want your child to become independent and to eventually not require the educational supports which are presently essential.  This helps position you as the advocate or parent on the side of working toward independence for the child.
  2. Present an evaluation (from the recommended private evaluation) of the child’s present level of “dependence” upon educational supports.  This evaluation may need to be acquired through an independent or private educational evaluation.  It needs to be precise relative to the exact supports needed by the child, including information about the frequency, intensity, and the proximity of the supports.  Make every attempt to be accurate in this assessment.  Remember that the school is correct in their position that to over support a child is to handicap and reduce the independence of the child.  The key is to provide just enough support to allow the child to be successful, but not so much as to further handicap the child. This is where I often use the “learning to ride a bike or swim” analogy.  Training wheels for a learner bike or a kick board for learning swimming are appropriate supports and when they are no longer needed we fade them away.  On the other hand we do not throw children who cannot swim into the deep end of the pool in order to make them independent swimmers.
  3. Consider placement issues.  It is ironic that sometimes the only way to obtain the supports the child needs is to move the child from self-contained, supported classrooms.  Most school districts consider self-contained, supported (having a paraprofessional assigned to the teacher) classrooms to be adequately supported and thus in many cases they absolutely refuse to increase the levels of support in the classroom.  Too often, the reality is that such V.E., Autistic, or other specialized classrooms do not provide sufficient individual supports for students.  These classrooms often manage the students through the presentation of low expectations, low demands, and allowing excessive “down-time.”   One can argue very well that, in fact, these classrooms make the students dependent on the educational delivery model and make them ill-equipped to function in general society.  Sometimes the only way to obtain the proximity, high-level support some children require is when those children are mainstreamed out of the school’s self-contained units.
  4. Insist upon appropriate and trained support.  Children with disabilities do not need a paraprofessional to continually hover over them, excessively prompting them.  They need well trained individuals who have learned appropriate prompting techniques and who are careful to bring their support to the child only at the child’s carefully determined point of need.  Knowledgeable experts should design the prompting techniques and should continually monitor the delivery of support services.  All prompting and educational supports need to be designed to be scientifically and carefully faded over time.

 

From the above, you can see that just getting some paraprofessional time with your child is not sufficient.  A poorly trained paraprofessional could actually harm you child’s progress toward independence.  This is why the common school practice of “covering” the child with various individuals, who happen to be in the classroom at different times, cannot work.  Responsible and professional support of a child with disabilities requires child-specific training in appropriate prompting, data collection, social facilitation, language facilitation and academic coaching.  The issue is not so much how many different individuals are used to support the child, but the level of training, knowledge of the child’s support needs, and coordination of the effort.

 

Getting the support into the IEP:  When IEP teams agree to reference to a paraprofessional on an IEP, they will almost always place the reference in the “supports to the teacher” portion of the IEP.  Their logic is that the teacher is the person directly responsible for delivering education to the child.  The teacher may use the paraprofessional in the educational delivery, but the paraprofessional is for assisting the teacher – not the child.

 

This are just word games as far as I am concerned.  I have no problem with how the school describes the paraprofessional support it is going to provide, as long as the child is guaranteed very clear and specific support on his/her IEP.  The fact is that just checking a box or writing in paraprofessional support on an IEP does not guarantee the sophisticated kind of support many children need.  For this reason I feel that it is important to insist that somewhere on the IEP the IEP team agrees that the child needs a defined list of supports (similar to the list I have provided above), which list clearly specifies the supports in terms of frequency, intensity and proximity.

 

When I say this defined list of supports needs to be on the IEP, this can be done in a number of different ways.  Most IEP forms do not provide a place for precise and detailed information about the “supplemental aids and services” a child may need in order to succeed in the least restrictive environment.  The accommodations checklists generally provided do not present either the detail or the full substance of what is needed.  In addition, many schools suffer from “formitis:” a bureaucratic malady, which paralyzes all ability to do anything that is not on “THE FORM.”

 

Actually, the IEP may include by reference an agreed to, detailed, listing of the specific supports that the child will receive, including prompting, social and language facilitation, reinforcement, behavioral supports, etc.  Alternatively, this information may be put on an IEP conference form.  While I have heard uninformed school administrators claim that if something is not on the IEP Form, it is not on the IEP, this is simply not true.  Conference notes or an agreed list of services should be referenced on the IEP form and made part of the IEP.  I recently won a due process case where the judge (ALJ) was very upset because the school had failed to implement items which it had agreed to on a conference form.

 

Finally, it is improper for IEP teams to defer to any other committee or administrator on the question of paraprofessional support.  If an IEP team refuses to make the “need” determination, claiming they are required to defer to another committee or administrator, I would ask them to put that policy in writing.  If the IEP team persists in refusing to make the determination, then I would ask for an “Informed Notice of Refusal.”


Mark Kamleiter is the founder and Senior Attorney of Special Education Law and Advocacy, a firm supporting families in special education law across the state of Florida.

 

His office in St. Petersburg can be reached at 727-323-2555. Mark is a member of COPAA.

 

This content is reprinted with his permission from his blog, “Conversations in Special Education Law and Advocacy.”

Can Response to Intervention (RtI) Delay Parent Requested Evaluations?

Response to Intervention is a data driven approach to providing support to children who may need extra help. It can be a valuable tool on the path to eligibility for Special Education.

Yet sometimes, it feels like a road block to getting your child an evaluation.

Florida attorney Mark Kamleiter sheds light on this confusing topic.


This is a frequently asked question.  Very often schools will refuse to do evaluations requested by a parent on the grounds that they must first complete the RtI process.  Can schools do this?  Why or why not?

Schools may honestly misunderstand the law in relation to this question.  The Florida Administrative Rules governing special education do require school districts to engage in and complete evidence-based, multi-tiered interventions (RtI) BEFORE proceeding to more standardized educational evaluations.  (See Florida Administrative Code 6A-6.0331 (d)).  In other words, before a district can decide it wants to do evaluations, the district is obligated to complete RtI.

If one reads on, however, the same code section states that if parents request the evaluation, then the school district must gain parental consent within thirty (30) days and then proceed to conducting the evaluations.  In such circumstances it is not required that RtI be conducted first.

(See Florida Administrative Code 6A-6.0331 (d)2)

  1. “The evaluation was initiated at parent request and the activities described in subsection (1) of this rule will be completed concurrently with the evaluation but prior to the determination of the student’s eligibility for special education and related services; or”

The above rule (translated) means that when the parent initiates the request for an initial evaluation, RtI should be “completed concurrently with the evaluation.”  This means that the evaluation and RtI must both be completed within sixty (60) days of the parental consent, but before a “determination of the student’s eligibility ….”  This is a considerably shorter time than if the school does its RtI first and then does the evaluation only after RtI is concluded.  This is particularly true when schools routinely do not respect the sixty (60) day rule for completing RtI.

Did you know this rule?  Has this been helpful?  Let me know your thoughts.

Remember:

  1. Put your request for evaluation in writing.
  2. Be precise about the evaluations you are requesting
  3. Ask to be allowed to sign the consent form immediately.  The law gives the school district’s thirty (30) days to obtain the parental consent, but they are not obligated to take thirty days.  Insist on signing immediately.

Mark Kamleiter is the founder and Senior Attorney of Special Education Law and Advocacy, a firm supporting families in special education law across the state of Florida.

His office in St. Petersburg can be reached at 727-323-2555. Mark is a member of COPAA

This content is reprinted with his permission from his blog, “Conversations in Special Education Law and Advocacy.”

What States Have Special Education Vouchers, and How Are They Working?

School vouchers are a hot topic these days. What exactly is involved, and which states are already using them?

 

Florida attorney Mark Kamleiter offers insight into these programs, including which states are already using them.


This week I wrote an article about the idea of using federal special education money as vouchers for students with disabilities, which is currently seeing some high-placed support, including from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

To be sure, any sort of funding shift to a voucher would require a top-to-bottom Congressional overhaul of the 42-year-old Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And the current federal contribution for special education averages out to only about $1,800 per student ages 3-21 with disabilities.

But both DeVos and President Donald Trump are strong supporters of school choice, with Trump specifically calling for a choice program for “disadvantaged” children during his address to a joint session of Congress. (It’s unclear whether students with disabilities would be included under the “disadvantaged” umbrella.)

Federal red tape, however, has not stopped individual states from offering their own choice programs, including vouchers and educational savings accounts. Twelve of 26 voucher programs nationwide are aimed specifically at students with disabilities, as are 3 of 5 educational savings account programs,  2 of 21 tax-credit scholarship programs, and 1 of 9 individual tax credits or deductions. (Also, nothing prevents a student with an individualized education program from taking advantage of any other choice program out there.)

 

Vouchers

 

Educational Savings Accounts

 

Tax-Credit Scholarships

 

Individual Tax Credit/Deductions

 

Thanks to Jason Bedrick, the director of policy at EdChoice, and EdChoice’s 2017 edition of The ABCs of School Choice for this information. 


Mark Kamleiter is the founder and Senior Attorney of Special Education Law and Advocacy, a firm supporting families in special education law across the state of Florida.

 

His office in St. Petersburg can be reached at 727-323-2555.

 

Mark is a member of COPAAThis content is reprinted with his permission from his blog, “Conversations in Special Education Law and Advocacy.”

Can a Student with a Reading Disability Have Tests Read Aloud?

There’s a wide variety of accommodations available for kids with reading disabilities. One strategy is to read assessments aloud. But when is this appropriate?

Florida attorney Mark Kamleiter offers his perspective as it relates to his state’s laws.


One of SELA’s advocates posed this question to me.  The advocate, Debbie Campbell, is a practicing Speech Language Pathologist, and very knowledgeable about reading issues.  Often she has to advocate for children with reading disabilities.  She asked me when Florida was going to get to the place that New York has arrived at in allowing the full reading of tests to children with disabilities.

Essentially, the above link announces a new educational policy in the State of New York, allowing the testing accommodation of reading the full test to a child with disabilities.  This was a change from an earlier policy where only the directions could be read to the student.

Well the simple answer to Debbie’s question is that it is already possible to have such a reading accommodation for Florida’s students with a reading disability or other difficulty with fluent reading.  This means that a student may have the entire test read to him/her including directions and questions.  It would (in my opinion) be disability discrimination to require a student to read accurately and fluently in order to answer a geography question on Brazil.  We want to test the student’s knowledge, not their ability to read.

In order to access this accommodation it must be placed on the student’s IEP or Section 504 Plan.  School’s are not necessarily going to suggest this accommodation, because it would mean one-on-one testing (so as to not disturb other test-takers) and this is time-consuming and thus expensive.  Still, if the student has difficulty with reading, the student has a right to this accommodation and parents should insist upon this accommodation.

There is an exception to the above general accommodation right.  It does NOT apply to tests, which are, in fact, reading tests.  In other words, if the test is evaluating a student’s reading ability then logically it would be inappropriate to read the test to the student.

The New York policy suggests a new idea, which could remove the requirement of one-to-one testing.  The test could be read aloud through technology.  Today, rather simple and easily acquired, inexpensive technology will read almost any text in a clear, natural voice.  With earphones the student can manage the technology him/herself, reading and if necessary, rereading the test questions.

The technology can even read back the student’s answer.  All of this could be done in a classroom with other students, without disrupting the test-taking by others.

Reading difficulties should not be an obstacle to a student’s academic success.


Mark Kamleiter is the founder and Senior Attorney of Special Education Law and Advocacy, a firm supporting families in special education law across the state of Florida.

 

His office in St. Petersburg can be reached at 727-323-2555. Mark is a member of COPAA

 

This content is reprinted with his permission from his blog, “Conversations in Special Education Law and Advocacy.”

We’re Hiring! Subject Matter Experts, June and July 2017

We’re growing fast, and we need expert insight to make the highest quality parent support tools possible.

As a Subject Matter Expert, you enable the expansion of our first parent support tool – already available to parents – which focuses on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

This role is a part-time contract. Remote workers are ideal.

You will be creating content for our parent support tool. Content includes:

  • Comprehensive list of descriptive characteristics by exceptionality
  • Potential developmental goals appropriate for different ages and abilities
  • Potential accommodations, therapeutic supports and other school supports relevant to the exceptionality

 

For June and July 2017, we are looking for Subject Matter Experts in the following exceptionalities:

  • Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Dyslexia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyscalculia
  • Auditory Processing Disorder
  • Speech and Language Impairment
  • ADHD

Experience and Qualifications

  • A bachelor’s degree required, preferably in the fields of special education, childhood development, or closely related area
  • A master’s degree highly desired, preferably in the fields of special education, childhood development, or closely related area
  • 5 years or more experience working directly with exceptional children in educational settings
  • 5 years or more experience supporting parents directly highly desired
  • A spike in expertise for one of the aforementioned exceptionalities as evidenced by your trainings, education and work history
  • Exceptional written and spoken communication skills
  • An ability to thrive fast paced, deadline driven environments
  • An ability to thrive in both independent and collaborative work settings; you’ll be working with a remote team via shared documents, phone calls and videoconferences while also creating content on your own.

Compensation

  • Salary range between $75 and $95 dollars an hour
  • You will be compensated as an independent contractor, with income reported on a 1099-MISC.
  • This is a part time, contract-based role.

Interested in applying? Send your resume and cover letter to hiring@growexceptionally.com.

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Q: I’m not sure if I should try to get a 504 plan or an IEP for my child. Help!

A: This is a common situation – you’re not alone! Right now, we aren’t able to advise you on this decision. Soon, we will add in content to our parent support tool that can help you think through the pros and cons of each option.


Q: My child’s teachers are really great, but I don’t think they quite understand my child. How can I help them understand?

A: You are not alone. Despite teachers’ best efforts, parents often wonder if their child is truly known and understood at school. Our parent support tool helps address this problem by bridging communication gaps between you and your child’s school. We make it easier to know what to say and how to say it – all for the benefit of your child.


Q: I like the look of your tool, but my child’s exceptionality is not supported by it. Are you adding new exceptionalities?

A:Yes we are! Look for many more exceptionalities to be supported starting in Fall 2017. Sign up here to get ExceptionALLY updates.


Q: Why do you use the word “exceptionality” instead of “disability?”

A: The word “disability” carries a lot of negativity with it. Yes, children with disabilities do have some limits that their typically developing peers do not. But “disability” doesn’t honor the unique and amazing strengths that special children have!

We prefer the term “exceptionality” because we see children with special needs as exceptional, not disabled. They have exceptional abilities – for better and for worse. They deserve to be fully known for everything that makes them who they are, not just for one aspect of their development.


Q: My local district and state are really tough when it comes to special ed. Do you take this into account?

A: The many differences between states, districts and even schools are a big part of what makes special education so complicated. As we grow, we will continue to add more and more content specific to local situations. Currently, our parent support tool relies on information that applies to all children under IDEA.


Q: I’ve got a really terrible IEP situation at my child’s school. What should I do next?

A: If your child is ever in physical or emotional danger, we encourage you to reach out to a special education advocate or attorney in your area. As we grow, we will aim to support every family – no matter how severe their situation is. Right now, we aren’t yet able to give personal advice on extreme situations (such as those that would lead to impartial hearings/due process scenarios).


Q: I often feel alone, powerless and vulnerable in my child’s IEP meetings. What can you do to help me?

A: Our mission to help parents like you feel powerful and knowledgeable in the special education process. Everything we design is created to serve this mission. Right now, our parent tool helps you know what to say and how to say it. We’ll help you “speak the school’s language” and raise your voice to become the champion your child needs.


Q: My children attend an independent school, but I’m still concerned about whether they are getting the right supports. Can you help me, or this only for children in public school?

A: Our parent support tool can help any parent trying to communicate their child’s goals and needs to an educator or caretaker. While many, many parents struggle within the IEP process at traditional public schools, parents in charter and private schools also struggle to help their children succeed.

We’re here to support all parents raising children with special needs.


Q: My child has a lot of supports outside of school – therapists, tutors, even babysitters. Can you help me communicate with these professionals, too?

A: Yes! The Exceptionality Action Plan helps you communicate with anyone who supports your child. Why leave anything to chance? Your unique child depends on you to share their needs with the world, and we’ll help you do that.

ExceptionALLY Testimonials

At ExceptionALLY, we love talking to parents of children with unique needs. Seriously, we can’t get enough. Parent conversations keep us connected to the families we support. This connection is essential to our mission.

In the last few months since we’ve launched our support tool (geared toward parents raising children with Autism Spectrum Disorder), we’ve had a lot of these conversations! We’ve received lots of helpful feedback and several encouraging remarks as well. Here are a few testimonials from parents, educators and supporters.

 

“This tool is wonderful. I like the way it’s broken down – very understandable for parents, staff and teachers.” – mother of a 14-year-old son with ASD

“Excellent concept… I’ve not seen anything like this out there anywhere else.” – special education lawyer

“This tool gives the parent a voice. Otherwise, you’re relying on the schools, and they’re trying to individualize the plans, but they don’t know your kid like you do.” – father of a 5 year old son with ASD

“Brilliant. This tool is so smart. Is it available in Spanish, too?” – special educator in Colorado

“I would love to see this expanded for students with SLD.” – former elementary school principal

“This tool completely turned around the tone of the IEP meeting.” – grandmother to a 8 year old boy with ASD

 

We love to hear how our tool is helping families, and we’re not done yet! We won’t stop until all parents have the knowledge and know-how they need to help their exceptional kids thrive.

 

 

ExceptionALLY Wins Competitive Grant to Support Special Education

 

We are proud to announce that ExceptionALLY is one of 15 ed tech companies awarded funding through the NewSchools Ignite Special Education Challenge. This grant helps us continue the work of developing impactful support tools for parents of children with special needs.

At ExceptionALLY, we help parents navigate the complex world of special education in order to give their children a quality education. Our first parent solution gives parents a more informed position in the IEP process, and thus, improves collaboration and communication. Here are comments from our customers:

“This tool gives the parent a voice.”

[The school team was] speaking in a lingo I don’t fully understand. With ExceptionALLY, I was able to interject.

I am…emailing the [ExceptionALLY report]…to the principal.

“While it may sound obvious that students with disabilities need additional support, few ed tech tools exist to support this diverse group of students,” said Tonika Cheek Clayton, Managing Partner at NewSchools Venture Fund. “We believe ed tech tools have the potential to address many critical needs in special education. That’s why NewSchools Ignite is proud to invest in ExceptionALLY to develop engaging tools to reimagine special education learning.”

NewSchools makes grants – through NewSchools Ignite – to support ed tech innovation and to mobilize companies who can tackle the biggest problems in education today.

ExceptionALLY is one of 15 ed tech innovations that received grants through the NewSchools Ignite Special Education Challenge. Other grant winners are:

  • BeeLine Reader
  • Branching Minds
  • Education Modified
  • Enuma
  • ExceptionALLY
  • Goalbook
  • InnovateEDU
  • iTherapy
  • Kinems
  • LiftEd
  • Nearpod
  • PhET
  • Timocco
  • VocaliD
  • Zyrobotics

NewSchools Venture Fund is a national nonprofit that finds, funds and supports promising and innovative education entrepreneurs, teams of educators and education leaders. We couldn’t be more excited to work with such a supportive and amazing organization.

How to Find a Special Education Advocate

You don’t have to face your child’s IEP team alone.

Many parents understand the purpose of a lawyer in the IEP process. If your rights have been violated, and you’re pursuing legal action or a due process hearing, you’re wise to call an attorney.

But what if you’re not sure whether you need legal action? What if you’d like to pursue all other solutions before heading down that path? Or if you’d just like an expert second opinion on your child’s IEP? A non-legal advocate may be the right choice.

An advocate is expert in the laws and policies that concern your child’s education. They also know a lot about different exceptionalities and the learning challenges children like yours face in school.

In this article, the experts at Wrightslaw give advice about how to find an advocate. Here are some other tips to consider.

  • Make use of online directories to locate advocates in your state. Wrightslaw has the Yellow Pages for Kids, and COPAA (the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates) has its own resource list.
  • Don’t be afraid to Google. Some advocates aren’t listed on the directories above.
  • Ask around. Other parents in your area or district may have a great recommendation, and several advocates don’t have websites; they rely on word-of-mouth to meet new families.
  • Call them up. Most advocates will give families a free phone consultation. This lets everyone get to know each other for a bit before moving forward.
  • Ask a lot of questions. Not all advocates have the expertise you need, so don’t be bashful. Ask about their backgrounds, their training, their experience, and which exceptionalities they know best.
  • Look for a collaborative spirit. It’s not always possible, but the best advocates try hard to find common ground and get what’s best for your child through collaborating with the full IEP team.

What other tips do you have about finding and working with great advocates? Let us know in the comments.

 

Taking Time for Yourself: Dream or Reality?

At ExceptionALLY, our mission is to offer meaningful support to parents of exceptional children. We spoke with hundreds of parents to learn what it’s like to raise their children with special needs. Every child is unique, and so is every family, but some consistent themes came out of our conversations.

A few consistent truths:

  • It’s easy to feel isolated and alone.
  • The burden is on the entire family, and there’s no end in sight.
  • Raising a child with special needs is usually utterly exhausting.

This article from Autism Parents Magazine gives six ideas for reducing stress and gaining clarity. Their suggestions (such as taking a walk or reading a book) sound like great pieces of advice for any busy parent, let alone a parent who’s balancing the needs of a child on the autism spectrum.

But I have to wonder – are steps like these enough to make a dent in the everyday stress of an autism parent? Can 30 minute powernaps chip away at the endless fatigue? And what about the parents who can’t find time for even these simple actions due to the many demands on their time?

Many parents we spoke with were doing all they could just to keep their heads above water. A 30-minute solo walk is an indulgence they can’t afford thanks to work schedules, lack of child care and other conflicting needs. They’d love to practice self-care but simply can’t due to lack of support, finances and time.

Like so many aspects of special needs parenting, this topic leaves me wishing I had a magic wand, one that could offer rest, respite and rejuvenation.

For all the moms, dads and caregivers out there needing a little magic, your struggles are real, and you are not invisible.

Do you have a self-care strategy (magic wand not necessary) to share with fellow parents? Share it in the comments.