Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Fought The Law

As a parent of a child with special needs, not just autism, it is important to know how to get the most out of your school to help your child. This means that you must know what you can and can’t ask for. Jen and I recently traveled to Edmond to participate in a national conference held to do just that.

Anyone who has worked with an IEP team knows that it can be difficult. There are emotions involved. The parents are asking for what they feel is necessary to help their child the most. The school is working to stay within their means while trying to help the family the best they can. Everyone is trying hard not to insult others in the room; whether it is intentional or not. In the end you usually leave the room wondering if you got everything you wanted, or if you just settled because you felt like you should.

The Wrightslaw Conference we recently attended helps put all this in perspective. is a website designed by attorney Pete Wright, Esq. to help everyone involved in special education understand the laws, and do what is best for the student. While this one-day lesson is geared toward parents, it is open and recommended for anyone involved in special education.

Other than parents, there were therapists, teachers, lawyers, paraprofessionals, and administrators from all over the country. While many were from Oklahoma, some had traveled from surrounding states including Texas, Kansas, and Arkansas. Others had come from as far away as Montana and Wisconsin just to hear Wright speak. One attendee had been to the conference five times.

Wright, a nationally acclaimed special education law expert, travels throughout the United States holding these FREE conferences throughout the year. According to the website, Wright is an attorney who represents children with special educational needs. In second grade, Pete was diagnosed with learning disabilities including dyslexia, dysgraphia and ADHD. His determination to help children grew out of his own educational experiences. He has argued as high as the U.S. Supreme Court to help fight for the rights of families with special needs.

The conference is free in Oklahoma thanks to the Oklahoma Disabilities Law Center and Partners in Education Advocacy. This includes three free books, written or co-written by Wright, a CD rom, a free bag and supplies.

Wright basically walks you through the three books and helps you understand where to pinpoint specific laws and regulation to help you during IEP meetings. He explains that you don’t have to know the law fully; you just need to know where to find it.

A major issue in IEP meetings is that tension between the parents and the school employees. Wright gives some advice on how to help relieve that tension by using what he calls “Mrs. Manners” and the “Peter Faulk Colombo Method” to get the most out of your team. “The way you present yourself is important,” said Wright during the meeting.

I have to agree with this. When you go into a meeting angry nothing good can come of it. The only thing that is going to happen is tempers will flare. People shutdown and begin to resent each other when they feel they are being attacked.

The meeting included tests to help you retain the information given throughout the day.

The books were the most important part of the seminar. They include Special Education Law, From Emotions to Advocacy, and All About IEPs. Each alone is worth attending. They are packed full of valuable information to help parents. Wright basically runs through them with the audience, albeit rather quickly sometimes, and tells what pages and sections to highlight. He also has developed a quick reference in the front cover of the books, and tells the crowd what to write and how to find the information quickly.

Special Education Law is an overview of key laws and regulations for special education. This includes IDEA 2004, FERPA, Supreme Court Decisions, and Section 504. If you don’t know what these are, the book explains in detail.

From Emotions to Advocacy: the Special Education Survival Guide explains how to make a plan to work with others including an IEP team. Learning the rules and regulations, obstacles, resolving parent-school conflicts, keeping good files, and test and measurements were also included in this book.

All About IEPs is a book full of the frequently asked questions about IEPs. Wright and his team have put together many of the questions over the years that have come into his website, and answered them with laws and regulations pertaining to them. This book goes over just about any question you might have about IEPs. Wright explained that he didn’t answer the questions with his opinion, but rather with the law.

Also included was a CD Rom that helps you make charts to help you and the IEP team understand your child’s progress. This runs you through how the Bell Curve works and gives step-by-step commentary on how to work up a visual aid for meetings.

The conference ended with a Q&A session where Wright, along with members of the Oklahoma Disabilities Law Center, fielded questions from the audience.

In all, this was a very informative conference. I felt like the books alone were well worth the three-hour trip. The only thing we paid for was gas (and a hotel room so we didn’t have to wake up early for a long drive).

Though it’s a year away, it would be well advised for everyone to mark your calendar for December 6, 2012. That is when the next conference is scheduled in Oklahoma City. And again, it is FREE.

The website in itself is a great source for anyone who has a child with a disability. It includes all the information you need with a great search engine for quick reference.

Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.

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