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Back to School - Getting Help - Who to Call What to Ask

By:  Carol Jimenez

"Back to school."  A phrase that means more free time for parents of typically developing children, but one that can create a special kind of stress for parents of children with special needs.  If you're one of the lucky ones, and you feel good about your child's placement and support team - you're starting out the school year with a positive outlook, and expecting the best. Congratulations and Hallelujah!

But, if you're like a large population of special needs children's parents, every school day can be a challenge. Perhaps the school staff is inexperienced, unresponsive, in constant flux; or you just don't see eye to eye on your child's needs.  So what's a parent to do?  

The answer is, "Don't hesitate to ask for outside support." 

The Advocacy Option:
Check out the Education-a-Must website for a list of advocates offering a free consultation hour.  Sometimes, just meeting with an advocate can give you new direction, or perspective on your child's placement.  Some advocates are forthcoming with detailed information during their consultation hour.  Others spend the hour talking about what you need to do to acquire their services, e.g. Money.

So, here are the nuts and bolts of a free consultation:  Take full advantage of your consultation time, and don't be afraid to ask very specific questions about your child's placement, support, and services.  Prepare as much as possible prior to your consultation, and treat every minute as if you're paying $250/hour - what many advocates charge. Get right down to business and try to avoid small talk.

If you decide that advocacy is for you, make sure that you feel comfortable with the person you will be working with.  When you walk in to meet an advocate, you want to know what they can offer your child.  If you get the sense that helping you is their focus, excellent!  Some advocates will make suggestions about things you can try prior to going the advocacy route. That is a very good sign that the advocate has your best interests in mind.  If they spend their consultation time focused on getting paid, I suggest you keep looking.  

The School District Option
Another option, if you feel at a dead end with your child's school, is to go directly to your school district's special education department for assistance.  Tell them what your concerns are and ask for their assistance.  You may find that they have resources you didn't know existed.  With the increase in autism, and the resultant constant changes in special education, many school districts are incorporating new strategies and supports regularly.  

You can also get a lot of ideas on the National Center for Learning Disabilities website.

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