Advocating for Your Child’s Legal Rights

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As a parent, you have more power than you imagined when it comes to helping your autistic child get services. Due to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, there are a number of things that your child has access to. This law provides the state with federal funding for special education programs should your child meet the criteria. All fifty states have opted to add this to their curriculum and qualify for federal funding in the United States.

* The IDEA

For you, as the parent, there are criteria specified in the act that gives you the ability to become a powerful advocate for your child within the educational system. First of all, IDEA requires that the state provides you with the ability to be an advocate and access to free public education for his or her unique individual needs. Second of all, this act establishes an explicit role for you in planning and monitoring your child’s program through IDEA. You are an equal partner in deciding on an educational plan that helps meet your child’s needs.

You should understand that as an advocate for your child, it can also be a double-edged sword. You will have responsibilities, as well. You want the best possible service that you can get for your child and the best education that money can buy. The state provided services may not be to your standards, so you will have to decide what to do from there.

Some parents find this job a bit intimidating because it requires you to attend group meetings and be well informed regarding the options that are available. You may have to work with a group of professionals that talk over your head and make you feel stupid and unaware. The best way to meet this challenge is to become educated on the services before you have the meetings. It may require you to challenge some recommendations that these people put in front of you, too. When confronting this responsibility, remember that you know your child better than anyone, and you – as the parent – know what is best. This confidence will allow you to take advice and give suggestions when dealing with this situation.

 * Your Child’s Rights

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The first major federal legislation that entitles children with disabilities to an appropriate education was passed back in 1975. Now, with the implementation of IDEA in 2004, this act was amended substantially during this time and is more suitable. You don’t need to read the entire act word for word, but you should be aware of certain key ideas contained in this act and understand exactly what your child is and is not guaranteed. The concepts in the law that are important include that you understand it better. These are eligibility, free and appropriate public education, and least restrictive environment.

* Eligibility

The IDEA specifies that a child is legally entitled to receive early intervention services if he meets the eligibility requirements that define a disability. Autism is mentioned as one of these conditions, therefore, if your child is diagnosed with ASD, the diagnosis is generally sufficient to determine your child is entitled to these rights. If your child has not been formally diagnosed with an ASD, he may need to be evaluated for this if you suspect it. This issue is determined by a thorough assessment paid for by the state and special education division.

* Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Under the IDEA, FAPE meets each child’s individual needs. Free education is available and appropriate for your child with autism. The child with an ASD cannot keep up with regular curriculum sometimes, and classwork may need to be modified. This is obviously a tremendous benefit to all but the wealthiest parents, as treatment interventions and special education programming for these children is extremely costly.

You will be informed regarding the best interventions within the IDEA program but the state may not have them readily available. The law does require that they provide disabled students with services that give them the opportunity to achieve success and do well. The state must make sure these services are appropriate for the child, too. As the child’s advocate and official representative, be up to date on your child’s performance and make sure he is meeting his goals.

Services include transportation to placements, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychological treatment, and social work interventions. Communication difficulties are often a common characteristic of ASDs, so therapies can help with this. You and the state representative of the program must agree upon the services that your child will receive. Addition components include that use of specific curricula that suit your child’s learning style, the provision of classroom accommodations, and the use of modified testing formats such as test and extended time limits.

* Least Restrictive Environment

Another key component of IDEA is the least restrictive environment, defined as an environment in which your child has the greatest possible opportunity to interact with other children who do not have a disability and to participate in the general education curriculum. This portion of the IDEA is based on the conviction that children with disabilities benefit socially and linguistically from contact with the nondisabled, same-age peers. This type of mainstreaming is favored by many parents who have children with high-functioning Asperger’s or those who are very close to normal in academics. While there is some debate regarding the relative benefits of this placement type, it has become commonplace for children with ASDs to spend most of their instructional time in a regular classroom with the assistance of special education teachers who can adapt the curriculum to fit their needs.

* Early Intervention and the IFSP

The IDEA provides grants to states so they can provide special education to children with disabilities as early as age three. This act will allow states to provide intervention services for children with ASDs and other disabilities. These services may be directed toward the child or the entire family and include special instruction, speech and language instruction therapies, and psychological evaluation. The earlier the intervention services, the better. It is important for you to be aware of this and to see if your child is eligible for these provide to you at no cost.

An individualized family service plan or IFSP provides your child with holistic help that is beneficial for the entire family. Once you have located the nearest early intervention office, there are steps you must take to secure these services. The IFSP will allow for you to participate in the decision-making process, as well. In the IFSP meeting, your child’s plan will be developed and you will know what to expect. The IFSP is a written document that describes your child’s current levels of functioning and anticipated outcomes and goals. It is formulated according to your child’s diagnosis and includes his specific challenges and strengths.

IFSP Meeting Tip #1 – Arrive on time with a plan in mind about what you want and be prepared to demonstrate that these services are necessary for your child. Bring documents that are relevant with you and use these to your advantage. Some specialists make recommendation in their notes for particular therapies and they are listed in progress notes for you. Remember, these people will have to justify to their superiors why the child is getting said services and this documentation is helpful.

IFSP Meeting Tip #2 – Choose your words carefully and try not to offend anyone. Although your goal is clearly to bet the best services for your child that you can, don’t ask for what is best. This may sound odd, but the law does not require the state to provide best, just appropriate. Listen to the advice of the team members and find out what is available. You will find that highly qualified people work for the state and in the educational arena.

IFSP Meeting Tip #3 – Have a positive attitude and convey trust and warmth to the group. They pick up on negativities and insulting remarks, so just don’t make them, period. Conduct yourself calmly and businesslike and adopt an attitude that says you can be taken seriously and work together with others. Using your powers of persuasion and presenting evidence to support your position is much more likely to be productive than raising your voice. Don’t be overly friendly, just be yourself only better.

* Referrals

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You will be ‘referred’ a lot with the IDEA. Many parents who contact the early intervention office get referred to administrators, teachers, special centers, and other social service programs. As a parent, you may choose where you want to go but the facility must be a participator. Most parents make initial contact with these folks by phone. There are some tips to handling referrals you should be aware of.

Early Intervention Referral Tip #1 – Be proactive and make sure to follow-up. This may be a phone call or an email when you don’t’ hear back from someone you contacted after your initial call. Even though the early intervention office is legally responsible for responding to your requests, they may not call you back promptly. Don’t let things fall through the cracks or let bureaucratic delays impede the task at hand.

Early Intervention Referral Tip #2 – Be honest and upfront. When you are asked about your child’s abilities and disabilities, tell the truth and be honest. It is crucial that you let them know of your child’s limitations and symptoms. Many parents are ashamed and try to hid or minimize these, as it is a natural tendency to do so. It is not what is best for your child, however.

* Consent for Special Education Evaluation

You must give consent for your child to be evaluated. This is known as CSE or consent for special education. A CSE typically requires a social history, an educational evaluation, and a psychological evaluation. If deemed appropriate for your child’s specific challenges and strengths, additional evaluations may be requested. These include speech evaluation, an assessment of the need for physical or occupational therapy, and evaluation of auditory processing and a neurological evaluation.

It is best to consent promptly to all recommended services. The more you get involved in, the more evaluation your child will get. It is important that you have a respectful attitude toward the expertise of the members of the CSE, too and acknowledge that their goal is to determine what is best for our child. Try to establish a cooperative and collegial working relationship right from the start. Some parents find that this is for the best interest of the child.

You have the right to ask the qualification so of any evaluator that works with the CSE. Most are highly educated and over-qualified, too. If you make this request, you could alienate the evaluators and the school district may not respond well to your inquiry. Regardless of this these evaluation are costly and while some insurance companies provide them, most do not. Even if you have reservations about public CSE, it is really a good program and you should wait around, as sooner is better in this case.

CSE Evaluation Tip – When you are asked about your child’s behaviors and symptoms, be honest and up front with the evaluators. Focus on your child’s disabilities as well as his abilities. Don’t be surprised or upset when you receive the written evaluation and see that the focus is more on the negative than on the positive, as this is standard for CSEs.

The development of an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) will allow for your child to get the best education possible with his disability. Once an IEP is in place, it must be reviewed annually and updated throughout the year. This allows for your child to get special education services and for you to meet with the CSE each year to review your child’s IEP.

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