Best Resources Available for Special Needs Parents

special needs resources

Many different resources are available to help you and your special needs child. As special needs can encompass a wide range of abilities–physical disabilities that affect mobility, hearing impairments, vision impairments, congenital conditions, and more–the resources and services listed below consider all of the needs of your child:  

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the most important pieces of legislation relating to children with special needs, and applies to issues like employment, transportation, access to public facilities, and access to various forms of telecommunications. If a person, group, or organization is in violation of the ADA by their refusal to help you, reminding them of this may be enough to change their minds.

The Department of Developmental Services

Emphasizing people who have developmental disabilities (including, but not limited to, low IQ, autism, epilepsy, and so on), this department of California’s government provides various services and support at a wide range of facilities. As noted on their website, individuals who qualify for support are generally eligible for services throughout the rest of their life, most of which are provided for free.

The California Department of Rehabilitation

The California Department of Rehabilitation, often referred to as the DOR, emphasizes helping people with special needs find employment and develop the skills they need to live independently. They’re also in a good position to determine whether or not a given individual will ever be able to do live independently, or if they’ll need full care and support for the rest of their lives.

Services here include employment counseling, placement assistance, mobility aids, and many other services. Their activities are limited to residents of California, but are available to people with all types and all severities of disabilities. These services will start to become available to your child when they’re in High School, and are geared towards smoothing the transition between the end of public school and the start of college or a career.

Special Needs Network

The Special Needs Network is an independent, non-profit organization that specializes in helping people with developmental disabilities, particularly in areas that are considered under-served by the Department of Developmental Services and other official resources. If the DDS can’t help you, there’s a chance the SNN can.

They emphasize early detection of developmental disabilities, since this can make all the difference for children suffering from learning disabilities. If you’re in an under-served community and worried that your child needs assistance, consider contacting them today and asking if they can help.

Special Education Guide

Are you feeling confused about special education, and how it works for your child? At the California Special Needs Law Group, we specialize in advocacy and support, but we’re certainly not the only resource you should be using. The Special Education Guide is an outstanding reference, offering resources like a Special Needs Dictionary (so you can understand many of the terms you’ll see here), some basic Disability Profiles (to help you understand what services your child may qualify for), and even some resources for parents who’d like to make a career out of helping the children who need it the most.

Need more help?

Check with local community centers, churches, nonprofits, and other organizations. Your child’s needs are important, and while these places may not be able to help directly, they can often help you find someone who can.

Get the Most out of Your Child’s Individualized Education Plan

Individualized Education Plan

Individualized Education Plans–often referred to as IEPs–are by far one of the most important parts of education for children with special needs. Given this, it’s important to get as much out of the plan as you possibly can. Here are some ways to do that:

1. Keep the focus on the child

This isn’t just a suggestion. Under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the team developing the IEP is required to consider the academic, developmental, and functional needs of each child being reviewed. IEPs are not about how much you’d like your child to develop or how much effort the school wants to put forth. They’re about doing what can be done to help children, and keeping the focus on the child helps keep things on the right track.

2. Be ready to compromise on your terms

One thing many people don’t realize before IEP meetings is that parents and teachers will often disagree about the best way to handle a specific child’s needs. The reasons for disagreements can vary, but one way or another, they need to be resolved. Having an advocate on your side can take the emotion out of it, but you should also consider compromising when someone suggests an idea you’re not entirely comfortable with.

One common solution is allowing schools to try it their way for a specified period of time, particularly if you don’t believe their idea will hurt your child in any way. However, you can also ask for some kind of tangible measure of progress, and if the school doesn’t accomplish that goal, then your idea could be put into effect instead.

3. Keep records of everything

The best way to make a change is to provide documentation of failure, especially and when you’re dealing with school districts. Opinions don’t count for a whole lot at IEP meetings, but if you have test scores, reviews, and numbers showing that the school has not met its obligations to your child, then you have a real case on your hands.

Keeping records is a fundamental part of this. The documents shouldn’t be limited to those provided by the schools, either. In many cases, objective third parties like therapists, doctors, and psychologists provide reports that must be considered by the school.

4. Accept your child’s problems for what they are

As a parent, there is no doubt that you feel very strongly about your child’s needs, but feelings don’t change minds. Before you even begin the process of getting an IEP for your child, try to accept their problems, flaws, and failings for what they really are. Don’t look away or try to pretend that they’re something they are not; that usually ends up doing more harm than good.

Instead, face those problems head-on and look for the best ways to solving them. If they learn slowly, find a way of matching the lessons to their pace of learning. If they grow frustrated when they don’t like something, talk to the school about the best ways of handling that frustration.

You know your child better than anyone else, and if you’ve found a solution that works, you can try to have that written into the IEP–the school will have no excuses. IEP meetings can be tense, but remember, you’re all in it together. In the end, helping your child is what matters the most.

Understanding the Standardized Test for Special Needs Students

Standardized Test

Spring is here, and with it, the standardized tests that over three hundred thousand children with special needs are expected to take. California has made a few changes this year. Here’s what you need to know:

What tests are being taken?

As always, students are taking a variety of different tests. The main assessments are run by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which uses Common Core standards to create tests in English Literacy and Mathematics. The Science tests are run by a different group.

Some people have charged that the Smarter Balanced tests are “fatally flawed”, and this is of particular concern for students with special needs because of their general difficulties with taking tests.

How well have students with special needs done in the past?

Poorly. The results from 2015 found that, on average, a total of 88% of students with disabilities did not meet standards in English, while 91% did not meet standards in math. This is significantly higher than the 52% rate of failure in English and 63% rate of failure in math among students without disabilities.

What tools are available to help students take the tests?

Current standards permit the use of many different tools. The full list is available here, along with an explanation of who is permitted to use them during the test. Many of these tools are available to all students, but some are only permitted when their use is specified by a Section 504 or an IEP. If you believe your child needs a tool that is not on their IEP, talk to their school immediately and see if you can have it added to their plan.

Are these tools actually useful?

This is currently being debated, but some teachers in special education have claimed that the tools provided have made it harder for students to take the test, not easier. An article in the LA Times noted issues like color contrasts making the text hard to read, text-to-speech tools that were too fast to understand, and the use of sign language dialects unfamiliar to students.

Some changes have been made this year, including being able to change the speed and tone of voices, but many educators remain concerned that the tools are not enough to help the students who are most in need.

Do students with special needs actually have to take the tests?

According to Federal law, students with special needs are among the group that’s required to undergo standardized testing. However, parents can choose to opt their child out of standardized testing if they don’t believe their child is ready (and, statistically, many are not). Schools also have the option of opting students out, though many only do so with prompting.

Should I opt my child out?

This is a decision that can only be made on an individual basis, ideally after consulting with a child’s teachers and whoever is responsible for providing the help their IEP or Section 504 requires.

Keep in mind that the huge majority of children with special needs will not pass these tests. This is not our opinion – it’s the historical trend, and there is no reason to believe that there will be a major change in the numbers this year.

Do You Need a Special Needs Advocate?


A Special Needs Advocate is one of the most powerful supporters you can have when you’re dealing with the tangle of organizations, regulations, and documents that can affect children who need extra help. Do you actually need a special needs advocate, though? If you answer “Yes” to any of the following, then it’s probably time to make the call.

1. You’re Too Busy To Handle Everything Yourself

This is one of the most common issues parents have. Many are already working full-time jobs, and just being able to schedule a meeting with the school is often harder than it should be. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to give your child’s education the attention it deserves, then don’t try to do everything yourself. Advocates can help you understand the information provided, make decisions, and ultimately ensure that your child gets everything they should.

2.Your Emotions Are Distracting

We all care deeply for our children, but the truth is that an emotionally-charged atmosphere is not good for ensuring that children get help and support. Whether you’re worried about your child’s future, angry at what you see as failures on the school’s part, or just feeling stressed because of how many roles you’re juggling, a Special Needs Advocate can help take emotion out of the issue and focus on what needs to be done.

3. You Don’t Know Your Rights

The law requires schools to do many things for children in Special Education, but some schools are reluctant to provide certain services. Many schools will simply say, “We can’t do that” when they just don’t want to do it. Your child should never suffer because of a school’s refusal to follow the law. Special Needs Advocates are trained to understand the law and can ensure that your child’s school does everything it’s supposed to.

4. You Want Help Reviewing The IEP

Discussions with staff members are not a binding contract. In fact, in many cases, schools are only required to offer the services and support that are included on a child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). A Special Needs Advocate can review this document with you and ensure that your child will receive everything you expect them to receive.

5. Your Child Isn’t Progressing As Well As You’d Like

If your child has been in the Special Education system for awhile, they should have made progress. Their IEP should recognize any barriers to learning and have a plan to deal with them. If your child isn’t making any meaningful progress, a Special Needs Advocate can help you understand why and find out the best way to fix this problem.

6. You Disagree With The School District’s Decisions

Many needed services are initially denied by schools, but you don’t have to accept their refusal to provide a service you believe your child needs. If you truly think they’re in the wrong, a Special Needs Advocate can help you investigate the matter and figure out what, if anything, can be done to resolve this situation.

Get More Information

The California Department of Education maintains a page about the Services and Resources for Special Education. You may wish to review this before any meeting with the school district. The CalEdFacts page is particularly important since it contains information on everything from public access to special programs and testing requirements.