Having a successful IEP meeting, plan, implementation, etc. can involve a wide range of people and logistical efforts. Trust, based on constructive communication, is often the key factor in keeping all these moving parts working together.

Today I talk with Bree Tippets, a Pre-K, Special Education Coordinator for Orange Unified School district.

Bree helps us understand an IEP from the district’s point of view and what efforts we can make as parents to build a team focused on our child. Interestingly, Bree is the parent to a child with special needs and knows first-hand a parent’s point of view.

Idealism and the desire to help people is often an overarching view of many young people fresh out of school and ready to contribute to the world. For Adrienne Oliveira, my guest today, she saw a career as a special education teacher as her chance to contribute.

Adrienne reflects on her time working in three different schools in three different states and the dramatic differences she found in each district. All these experiences gave her a unique perspective after her son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Suddenly Adrienne was now a parent at an IEP instead of a teacher.

Children with special needs, especially with autism, can find navigating the social world difficult and challenging. There are so many rules for social interaction and they constantly evolve depending on who is in the room, as we age, etc.

Today I talk with Brock Tropea a speech language pathologist by day and a social skills group ninja in the afternoons. We cover how social skills groups work, how to understand and see progress and the specific types of social skills targeted for an upgrade.

Hiring an advocate or attorney may, at some point, be something you need to consider. An advocate can be part of your support team at a lower cost while an attorney helps if you need to review the law or maybe are not satisfied with the services your district is offering.

This session discusses when and where an advocate or attorney can be helpful.

The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the key document, roadmap, etc. for a child securing special education services.

Rich and I talk about the IEP and what important aspects you should know and understand as a parent or caregiver.

Community Advisory Committees (CAC). Have you heard of them? Ashley Lopez has and she has some interesting information to share! Every school in California is required to have this organization to facilitate communication between parents of children with special needs. Checkout Ashley’s committee here.

Ashley, who has a strong sense of advocacy and a seemingly endless supply of energy, realized that her CAC needed an “upgrade.” After some pushing and agitating Ashely came to understand that the community in this school district was not being well served. While she was able to secure services for her son, others did not have the same resources to do the same.

I am currently in the process of preparing for a due process hearing and still shaking my head at how we got here.

First, though, I need to tell you about Sara. Sara is a beautiful 11-year-old girl who is deaf. She also suffers from multiple medical issues which require her to have a feeding tube and a broviac central line connected to her heart. She currently attends a special day class where she enjoys learning and being part of the school community.

Her sole mode of communication, in essence her voice, is American Sign Language (ASL).

The two main issues the school district is fighting us on go to the core of Sara’s communication:

  • Does the sign language interpreter for student have to be qualified?
  • Allowing the parents to communicate with the interpreter. Yes, you read that right.

How are these even issues? Of course the sign language interpreter has to be qualified. Her sole purpose is to translate the spoken word to sign language so this beautiful little girl, who happens to be deaf, can access her education.  And of course her parents want to chat with the interpreter from time to time to ask those basic questions like “How was Sara’s day?”

Although the IEP clearly states, a full-time American Sign Language interpreter, the district is providing two unqualified aides, calling them signing assistants.

Can you imagine if this was a Spanish or English Interpreter? In any world outside of education would an interpreter be provided who was not fluent in the languages they were interpreting?  Of course not. Also, sign language is the only mode of communication this little girl will ever have. Unlike our English language learners who slowly develop the appropriate language skills, Sara will never hear. She will always use sign language. For her schooling, she will always require an interpreter.

Of further concern is the district’s unwillingness to allow parents to talk with the “signing assistants” so they can learn the new signs Sara is working on. There are many different ways to sign the same word or action and it is important for the school staff and parents at home to use the same signs.

Apparently, her parents’ requests are a little too much for the school district, so we have ended up here… three weeks from going to trial.

Every couple of years I get a random case that ends up at trial for no reason. The last time I was in a trial it involved an eligibility issue. All we wanted was for the school to provide an IEP to address the student’s attention and sensory deficits. This included a reasonable request for sensory breaks. It would have cost the district no additional money but would have allowed us to monitor the student’s progress and make sure he was accessing his education. The district decided to go to hearing instead, where it tried, unsuccessfully, to show the student did not require an IEP.

So here I am again, facing another school district who has chosen to fight a family instead of providing what the law requires: an education to a young girl.

I understand there are many cases where there is a legitimate dispute over what a student needs to access their education. I rarely end up in trial on these cases. Instead, we work things out.

After several failed attempts to reach a settlement, I am now preparing my witness list and getting our evidence together for hearing.

I will spend around 100 hours preparing for and attending the hearing. The district will pay its legal counsel to do the same.  And, as you can imagine, lawyers are a lot more expensive than hiring a qualified sign language interpreter.

And all for what? So they can explain to a judge that this little girl does not require an interpreter who knows sign language?  What do you think the judge will think? I think I know.

These types of cases frustrate me and leave me shaking my head. This is not the battle we should be fighting. This is not the disagreement we should be having. Regardless, I will do everything I can to protect Sara’s civil and educational rights.

There is no way we are going to stop until Sara has a qualified interpreter and her parents are able to freely communicate with them.


Our sensory system has a profound impact on our everyday experiences and how we react to our world. Maybe a noise is annoying, a light too bright or an article of clothing feels just not right. For children with special needs such as autism, ADD and more, sensory struggles may be magnified to the point where they have a significant impact on their perception of the world. What may seem just fine to us, may be threatening to them.

Understanding the sensory system and its roll in a child’s life is what I talk to Dr. Susanne Smith Roley about today. We cover a lot of exciting material including sensory seekers, sensory avoiders, body awareness and much, much more. By the end of this podcast you may find yourself having a good understanding of terms such a proprioceptive, vestibular, temporal and spatial awareness. Wow!



This post is a summary of an interview I did with Richard Isaacs, an attorney here at CSNLG. Check out the full interview here.

Lawyers who handle special education cases know and understand that getting legal services may intimidate families. One thing that not all parents know is that there are three possible ways to pay for attorney’s fees:

  • Upfront Payments – Client pays the fees upfront from their own pocket as the attorney completes the work.
  • Retention Fees – Client pays a retention fee and the firm attorney from it and recovers additional fees during a settlement with the district.
  • No Upfront Charges – Client pays no fee and all final fees are recovered during a settlement with the district.

Different firms have different payment structures… but clients should know they control the case and are always part of the decision process to continuing to pay for services.

A typical firm charges an hourly rate and retainer fees will vary. Attorney’s fees run from $200 to $500 an hour and cases, on average, run 20 to 80 hours. Depending on the complexity of the case, fees run from a few thousand dollars up to a hundred thousand. That final number is rare and involves an attorney working a case to and beyond an appellate court.

In California, about 97% of special education cases are settled outside of trial. From Richard’s experience, costs are about $3,000-$5,000 for a basic case and the average is from $8,000-$10,000. Parents and the school district usually go through due process, an informal hearing, with a judge provided by the state. When the judge’s decision favors the student, the parents have the right to recover the attorney’s fees from the settlement.

In the end, a good lawyer will clearly explain the fees, give you a sense of control over how much you wish to spend, and will ultimately focus on what is best for the child.



This article is based on a podcast I recorded with Dr. Perry Passaro, a licensed psychologist in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT benefits many, especially children with special needs, autism or high-functioning autism. It also helps people suffering from depression, OCD, and anxiety.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A research-based practice that helps people observe and recognize their negative thought process and replace it with more positive thoughts.

  • Highly effective on kids with special needs, along with other people.
  • Changes the thinking process, resulting in a change in the mood and behavior too.
  • With kids, working with proper tools, CBT can actually make a difference in both their mood and behavior as well.

Components of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Basically there are two main components of CBT. First is, bringing change in behavior and second is bringing change in the thinking process.

  1. Behavioral Change: This treatment is mostly used in case of a person or kid having fear or anxiety. In such case, CBT uses gradual exposure as the solution, to eventually reprogram their mind about fear or anxiety.
  2. Thinking Change: This is more helpful in case of negative bias, where one is judgmental and thinks that he/she is not good enough. It also helps children with low self-esteem and a generalized negative assumption or core-beliefs about themselves. This Automatic Negative Thought makes people sad and depressed.

In such cases, the Socratic questioning method is used along with evidence to change the self-image.

Who CBT is Appropriate For:

  • Kids with ADHD, having problems with self-strategizing (monitoring, management, regulation).
  • Students with emotional disturbance, depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, high-functioning autism.

Minimum Age:

  • For Cognitive Therapy: Begins with 9 to 10 years old.
  • For Behavioral Therapy: Much earlier.

Sessions in CBT: There are total 10 to 15 sessions, divided into three categories.

  1. First Session: Meeting with parents. Interviewing, reviewing records, test results etc. Identifying the triggers, specific behavior and consequences of that behavior. ExplainingProgressive Exposure.
  2. Mid-Session: Both child and parents are present. Involves generalization of skills, teaching, and application of these skills in real life. Also, collecting data, monitoring and measuring the progress, which is visible with 5 to 6 sessions.
  3. End Session: Usually results in a confident child, who has overcome and understands the anxiety and learns about the tools to tackle his/her life.

Success Rate of CBT:

  1. Very effective for kids with special needs who have parents’ support.
  2. Much more difficult and takes 15-20 sessions for moderate depressive disorders. Longer for more serious depressive disorders.
  3. Takes even longer in case of High-functioning Autism.

Post-completion: Fading Technique is used. Gradually reducing the visits to the center. Follow-ups and booster sessions are also done.

CBT is for Everybody: Helps people understand themselves better, improves their personal relationships, by replacing negative thought process with a positive one and lifting their mood overall, thus changing their behavior too.

CBT has a very good prognosis that it does help people, even in the most resistant or hopeless cases.

Final Thoughts

Wow! I learned a ton of new information from our discussion. I had “heard” about CBT for a little while now and liked its mantra and focus on taking action now to replace negative thoughts.  It reminds me of the tenants of Mindfulness.  My son’s autism is very profound, so he would not be able to try CBT right now.

Maybe someday! 😉

More Information

Read more about Dr. Passarro and listen to the full interview here.