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This week we are pleased to have a guest blog co-authored by two professors who are specialists in the area of learning disabilities:
Howard Margolis, Ed.D., is Professor Emeritus of Reading and Special Education at the City University of New York. Howard is former editor of the Reading Instruction Journal and the Journal of Psychological and Educational Consultation; for almost two decades he has edited the Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties.
Gary G. Brannigan, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Gary is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and a certified School Psychologist who specializes in parenting issues. He has worked with many children with learning, reading, and other disabilities and their families.
Here are 15 guidelines to help you advocate for your child with learning disabilities:
Have your child evaluated by experts who can identify your child’s special needs.
Make sure you understand his needs before you meet with school personnel to discuss his needs and possible interventions.
Make specific requests (in writing) for meeting his needs; support your requests with reports from well-credentialed experts, experts whom the school respects.
Treat people with respect, even if you disagree with them, even if they reject your requests.
Keep looking for ways to solve problems; remember that the school’s suggestions for solving your child’s problems may be as good as yours. Avoid the trap of advocating for a specific reading method, especially one that has a weak research base (e.g., Wilson, Fast Forword, Orton-Gillingham); instead, focus on goals, objectives, frequent monitoring of progress, and frequent meeting to adjust your child’s program.
Keep written, dated records of whatever anyone in the school tells you.
Make a copy of every item you receive from the school. Organize the originals in chronological order; don’t write on them. Organize the copies in chronological order by subject.
Have someone accompany you to all meetings. If possible, have a knowledgeable expert or an advocate accompany you. Make sure that whomever accompanies you treats people with respect, works to solve problems, and understands both the relevant laws and reading disabilities. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned advocates have little knowledge of reading disabilities, and many reading specialists and special educators have little knowledge of special education laws.
Take your time at meetings, but never cause unnecessary delays.
Work to understand what’s being said and what’s happening. If necessary, schedule a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and umpteenth meeting. Keep meeting until you get your child the program and services he needs, and until he makes satisfactory progress. If people tell you this is unrealistic, think of the consequences of not meeting, of not getting your child what he needs.
Send the school a written summary of each meeting: what happened, what was agreed to, what you disagree with, remaining issues and concerns, requests for additional meetings.
Know and understand the special education and and related laws that apply to your child.
Understand how the school operates, how it does things, who has the real decision-making power.
Keep momentum going. Combat the memory-numbing effects of long periods of inactivity by contacting school personnel weekly until your child gets the services he needs, scheduling frequent meeting to monitor progress and problem-solve your child’s needs, keeping your child’s unmet needs in the forefront of school personnel’s concerns.
Be persistent, be respectful. By your actions—not just your words—help school personnel realize that until your child’s needs are met you will be in continual contact with them and will use the relevant laws to get your child the services he needs.
Monitor your child’s progress. Even programs strongly supported by research may fail your child. Small tweaks in the program and complementing it with other instructional strategies and classroom modifications may produce huge gains.
No school administrator wants to keep spending time on the same issue. Once they realize that you are serious, your needs get met, and you and your child are treated with respect. They want to avoid hearing officers and legal actions. Just be polite and firm, following the above steps. It will work!