Autism Conference

4 Feb

The Greater Georgia Chapter of the Autism Society of America is hosting its annual Autism/Asperger Conference and I’m sitting in the main conference area. And I’m a bit miffed, irked and irritated. I sent all my papers in to the county office a couple of weeks ago and when I arrived this morning, they knew me not. So instead of a nicely typed nametag, I have the scrawly hand-written one written in my scribbly writing. More irritating is that they won’t give me a lunch ticket until they are sure they have enough food for everyone else. And that is mightily inconvenient. Not so much for the lunch (which is usually just okay), but for the Keynote given during the mealtime given by Drs. Bob and Lynn Koegel from the Koegel Autism Center.

Fans of Supernanny may remember an episode where Nanny Jo helped a family with a young boy with autism. She brought in Lynn Koegel to help out. The Koegels are well known and respected in the autism and autism research communities. They are pretty big news and missing them would really torque me off. Skipping the lunch is inconvenient and bothersome. I can bring a PB&J sandwich tomorrow.

The other major insult is that I had to pay my own way in, and hope and pray that the county reimburses me. They already had approved it, so I’m not taking any prisoners on that. They better cough up the $200 bucks.

Session #1: Walking Through Fire

The first session we’ll attend in our conference is presented by Pat Howey and Wayne Steedman from Wrightslaw. Wrightslaw is a good resource for parents looking to advocate for their children as they specialize in special education law and advocacy. Teachers need to be aware of these folks and the resources as well. Both presenters are members of COPAA, which stands for Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates. Both have experience in due process hearings on up through the federal court system.

Pat Howey began her presentation by talking about her own walk through the fire as a parent. Her journey began in 1979, with the birth of her daughter who had a disability. She had to negotiate through the medical system, the insurance system and the educational system. She talked about many of the lessons she learned as a pioneer as a parent advocate. Parent advocates are not very popular in most school systems. Ms. Howey shared that she will probably never receive a Christmas card from her county’s director of special education. She was never invited to a PTA meeting. She was simply not very popular although well-known. 30 years ago, there was no ADA and special education was still in its infancy. She went through due process for her own daughter in 1986 and continued to attend IEP meetings with other parents.

Her daughter is now a married nurse, who drives race cars. Her daughter was in a wheelchair at 7 years old. The PowerPoint image of her daughter standing next to her race car was powerful. So this woman has a real story of success to share.

Wayne Steedman gave a presentation on how to avoid a due process hearing. Steedman is an attorney who specializes in representing students with disabilities. He began his presentation talking about many reasons to avoid due process. It is expensive in terms of monetary costs, relationships and services, costing tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. It simply is not fun for anyone.

1. Treat Parents as equal participants: This includes giving parents advance copies of evaluations and draft copies of the IEP.

2. Write goals and objectives that are clear and measurable.

3. Use research based teaching methodologies: It must be peer reviewed research.

4. Conduct annual assessments or as needed. The law states that it only has to be done every 3 years or longer. But doing it more often can help the educational program and the process.

5. Special Education is a service is a service not a place. This has a powerful bearing on LRE.

6. Encourage IEEs and give them due consideration. IEE = Independent Educational Evaluation. If a parent thinks the school is cooking the books, an independent evaluation can actually help make the schools case and help parents feel more secure about what the school says. But sometimes it supports what the parent says. In any case, it will help avoid a due process. Even if an independent evaluation costs hundreds of dollars, it is still cheaper than a due process hearing. If a parent requests an IEE, the school has two choices: Do it and pay for it OR file for due process to defend their own evaluation. Guess which is easier and cheaper?

7. Encourage parent involvement: this fosters trust’ facilitates communication and collaboration, and fulfills NCLB requirements. NCLB has significant requirements for parent involvement.

7 steps for parents to avoiding due process

1. Prepare for your IEP meetings as though you expect to go through a due process hearing. Have some authority walking in.

2. Become your child’s best expert. IDEA and NCLB both emphasize the use of peer reviewed research-based practices. Parents need to be familiar with those practices and the research. Parents can help disseminate such research to teachers and administrators. Stuff just pulled off the internet will not be viewed as credible

3. Maintain a well organized file. Steedman uses 3 ring binders to store documents related to each student with tabs. Being organized boosts credibility.

4. Know your rights; know the law. COPAA is another source. However school personnel are not allowed to be members. I’ll have to find out what my status would be, since I’m both.

5. Document everything and maintain a comprehensive log. Use letters and e-mails. Steedman also recommends parents tape record the IEP meetings. An example he gave was a teacher who says something “off the record” where it might help the child but might deny it later. However, if a parent writes a letter (or an email) including those remarks then it becomes incumbent on the teacher to write a letter denying it. Otherwise the law assumes those statements are accurate and true.

6. Obtain an IEE and have the evaluator attend the IEP meeting to explain the results.

7. Stay cool. When a person loses control, someone else is in control.

These are just notes I took and are only loosely organized. More to be added later!


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