Let me start this blog by bragging about my friend Amy Zimmerman. Amy has been a public interest attorney her whole career. When Henry was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder 12 years ago, she was one of the first people I called. Amy immediately had me correct the official diagnosis to Autism (as it has been updated recently in the DSM-V) and gave me a long list of experts to call. I was blown away because both my doctors and the school system had told me to relax and see how Henry progressed. Amy expressed a sense of urgency that they did not. From her experience, she knew that intensive, early and long-term invention held a promise of the best outcome for Henry. What she did for me, she is now doing on behalf of the Chicago Public School students with special needs. Amy is the lead attorney on a complaint against CPS for failing to evaluate kids with disabilities and transition them into services once they reach pre-school age of 3 which is required by law. Her legal action was recently featured in the NY Times.
Although these Chicago School children are just turning three, it is critical that there is no downtime in therapy. As special needs parents, not only do we need to educate ourselves in different therapies and treatment, we must also learn special education law or risk that our children get lost in the system like these CPS kids.
Last week I shared a few social opportunities for kids with special needs. This week I’d like to share the places I turned to learn about special education law.
The first organization is the Family Resource Center on Disabilities in Chicago (FRCD) http://www.frcd.org. I attended a two day long seminar at their offices shortly after Henry was diagnosed. As a non-attorney, my head was spinning trying to understand my son’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Why was it important that my son was entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)? The FRCD’s seminars are free and they even offer phone-in participation. You can also request individual help. You will learn to appreciate these acronyms that protect our kids.
A more lively seminar I attended on Special Education Rights was taught by Pete Wright of Wrightslaw. http://www.wrightslaw.com. Pete is full of boundless energy because he is ADD which peaked his interest in special education law. Not only were the attendees parents like myself but I recognized a number of prominent Chicago special education attorneys in the audience. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Pete is coming thru Chicago soon but I also find his website and books incredibly valuable. In fact, I used a template in one of his books when I filed for mediation and due process. It worked perfectly.
Again, it has been over 10 years since I attended these seminars and there are probably better resources now that you can find thru google or word of mouth. The point is that knowing the law early into your child’s diagnosis is key. Find ways to educate yourself so that even though you may not be an attorney you can play one at an IEP (dated TV commercial reference alert).
The plight of the Chicago Public School kids is more extreme than North Shore schools but I have run into my fair share of slow walking. Just because we live on the North Shore does not mean special education services are delivered on a silver platter. Often prompting on the parents part is necessary, especially during tough economic times. As special education parents, we need to know what to ask for that is appropriate under the law for our child (not best) in an informed, persistent manner that is not adversarial.