Tag Archive for: special needs

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.

Disability Rights California is a non-profit organization with a mission “…to advance dignity, equality, independence and freedom for all Californians with disabilities.”  It provides information and advocacy.

Receiving Help

DRC, explains on their front page, some of the services they provide:

  • Direct representation in criminal law, family law, bankruptcy or evictions
  • Personal injury lawsuits
  • Filling out Social Security application forms
  • Obtaining guardianship or conservatorship

More specific details on how they serve, and who they help, are explained on their eligibility page

For information on how to contact them at a local office, see here.

Self Advocates

If you are advocating for yourself or someone else, the website features the Special Education Rights and Responsibilities (SERR) manual loaded with information on specific rights and how they apply in different situations.  We use this site for training here at CSNLG and find it one of our top resources.

This PDF has a link to all their resources. It is a bit overwhelming though.

In general, the website is loaded with links and options and the organization of it all can be hard to follow. It takes some time to “learn” how the site is organized and the areas that are best for your situation.

Social Media

DRC has a social media presence, and if that is a preferred source for you, be sure to check out them out:

I don’t know about you, but the thought of hiring a lawyer for any dispute makes me go into a near panic. Right away I start to think about just how much it is going to cost? This is especially true for parents like us who have a child with Special Needs. Is it worth the cost to hire an attorney to advocate for better or additional services for your child? Would it simply be better to take those costs and use them for services or therapies out of pocket?

If you have a child with special needs such as autism, you may quickly start hearing about Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and Verbal Behavior (VB) as therapies that are helpful to children.

Today I talk with Dr. Denise Eckman president and executive director of Creative Behavior Interventions. We discuss an overview of what ABA is and which types of children, and even adults, benefit from this type of intervention. We go a little deep and by the end of this show, you will have a functional understanding of behaviors, their antecedents and a breakdown of different types of communication we find in language. In fact, if you listen carefully, you may be able to discuss Mands, Tacts, Intraverbal and Echoic communication!



The IEP meeting is a crucial opportunity for you as a parent or caregiver to understand what the school district is providing for your child. Being prepared and ready to go means you will be at your peak performance.

We put together some tips below to help you with your meetings. Give them a try; we are confident they will help you feel strong, organized and empowered.

1. Bring Somebody With You

Always bring someone with you. This may be your spouse, advocate, lawyer (although that will change the tone of the meeting) neighbor or friend. Having someone with you means you feel more confident and are not alone as you face a room full of district employees all speaking about your child.

Talk about a high-pressure situation!

Have him, or her, take notes on what is said, offer an occasional clarification question and simply be there to make you feel better. By having an additional set of ears, your understanding of the meeting will be significantly improved. My wife Lori, and I were never alone during IEP meetings, and every single time (yes every single time) we had two different understandings about what was said. 😉 By talking it through, we were able to come to a common understanding.

Imagine if we had been alone!

2. Be Polite

Lots of “hellos,” handshakes, “thank you’s” “and please’s” sets a positive, helpful tone during the meeting. I know I sound like my mother here, but it does help. People are more open when they are comfortable, and you want district employees to be as open as they can.  Also, we found that by being polite, it helped us if we became upset at something that was said or a service that was not delivered. The meeting participants then gave more legitimacy to our irritations as it was out of the ordinary.

3. Be and Look Prepared

Take a look at our post on what to bring to your IEP meeting and have it ready to go. Make sure the paperwork you bring is organized, a binder or similar with tabs is best, and that you have extra copies to distribute as needed. Looking and being prepared creates a strong first impression on people in meetings.  We strongly believe in this approach when talking to any providers (school or otherwise) about our son. It elevates the conversation to a higher level with more details and ultimately leads to a better outcome. Teachers labeled us as being “very involved” in our son’s education; they meant that as a positive comment.

4. Assume Best Intentions

Teachers and other professionals involved in working with students are there to help students learn and be successful. By assuming everybody in the room is working to help your child, you will feel more relaxed and present a non-threatening demeanor. They, in turn, will assume best intentions in you and everybody will be off to a great start.

5. Take Notes and Show That You Are Taking Notes

I use my laptop to take notes during meetings. Lori likes to write it down. Either way is good. Taking notes also lets you write down questions you have and ask them later on during the discussion. I promise you, no matter how smart you are, having notes will be a huge help later on when you are recalling or looking back at a previous meeting.

6. Ask Questions for Clarification

During the IEP you are going to hear information and ideas that may be new or confusing. Sometimes it is hard to explain an accommodation, service or classroom interaction. By asking questions, you not only help yourself understand the information, but you also give feedback to the district employee that you are listening and processing what they are saying.

One of my favorite things to do is ask questions that tap the background and expertise of one of the meeting members. For example, “What do you think Braden’s (our son) initial reaction will be to this accommodation?” I do so in a way that lets the person know I value their opinion. It tends to give them pause from a standard statement they are giving and pushes them to reflect on what they are saying. You can see the body language change right away as they pause, look upward, then give their opinion. They feel valued, and you know if they have a larger understanding of the ideas they are suggesting.

7. Avoid Talking Too Much

An IEP meeting is structured and designed for each district specialist and educator to speak and seek feedback. It is also designed for you to ask questions and seek understanding. It is NOT designed for parents to talk, grieve, and unload the stresses of having a child with special needs. Look, I get it. Having a special needs child is difficult, and we are reminded of this every day. However, an IEP is not a good place to unload those stresses.Save that for friends, support groups, etc.

Lori and I have a signal for each other if we start talking too much. Usually (maybe always) I am the one who needs the signal to stop cracking jokes (my way of dealing with stress) and to just listen. This is yet another reason to bring someone with you.

8. Dress Well

We dress up for religious services, weddings, work, job interviews and more. An IEP meeting is at least as important as those events, so dressing up is equally as important. We all make assumptions about people on how they dress. It may be right or wrong, but we do it. Looking your best can only serve to help. Gentleman, you don’t need a tuxedo though. 😉

9. Don’t Worry If Tears Fall

Early IEP’s, where you have just learned your child has extra learning needs, are emotional events. Often tears may fall as you listen to how your child is not like all the other kids. If you start to cry, don’t worry about it. Members of the IEP team will see a parent who cares deeply about their child. They may even be more empathetic about your situation.

Grab a tissue, recover and move on. 😉

10. Sincerely Thank Everybody at the End of the Meeting

The end of an IEP meeting is a great chance to let people know how much you appreciate the work they are doing. I like to individually thank each person by pointing out an example of their efforts. “Braden loves sensory time, and we are using many of the techniques you suggested at home now.” Now, if you are feeling angry, upset or frustrated at the conclusion, it is just as important to thank everybody for their time. This tells people it is not personal (even if it feels like it is) and that while you must continue to advocate for your child, you will be reasonable.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments section below.


A special education advocate is an individual who works on your behalf to help you secure services for your child. Some advocates work for free, while others charge a fee for services. They have varying degrees of experience and many have a child themselves with special needs.

An advocate is much less expensive than an attorney and is the next step up from handling the case yourself.  Fees for an advocate may be recoverable if a settlement hearing occurs.

Sample of services

  • Listen to your situation and help you clarify your child’s needs
  • Attend IEP meetings with you
  • Draft correspondence with the district
  • Suggest and explain services available through your district
  • Explain how the FAPE process works at your district
  • Attend mediation and hearings as your representative
  • Others?
  • Recommend support groups, other parents, and specialists

Questions you should ask

  • Have you been through the IEP process yourself as a parent?
  • What types of cases have you worked on?
  • What is your educational background?
  • Have you been through any advocate training programs?
  • Do you work for or under an attorney?
  • Describe your role when during an IEP meeting.
  • What do you enjoy and not enjoy about being an advocate?

Additional Resources

Bakersfield, California, is a city found almost exactly between Fresno and Los Angeles; each are about 100 miles from Bakersfield (Fresno to the north, Los Angeles to the south).

Special Education Bakersfield

Though too far from these cities to take advantage of their special education resources, parents, teachers and students seeking special education support and information can find several organizations within Bakersfield to meet their needs. These organizations include mainly educational institutions and nonprofit agencies.

Educational Resources for Special Needs Professionals and Families

The Bakersfield City School District provides speech, language and physical therapy services to special education students. On the school’s website, teachers will find links to procedural safeguards, special education curriculum information and IEP preparation forms. Parents can access links to a special education handbook as well as information about the Community Advisory Committee, which holds meetings addressing a variety of special education topics such as intervention strategies and support services.

The Kern County Consortium Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) consists of 44 schools districts and three charter schools and is based in Bakersfield. The SELPA offers parent training through workshops and a video library. It also oversees an Early Start program. In addition, personnel development programs are offered.

The Stockdale Learning Center provides educational therapy services for children with learning disabilities. The center will run diagnostic testing and employ intervention techniques. Advocacy services and workshops for parents are also offered here.

Recreational, Legal and Support Resources for Special Education Students and Parents

From awareness programs to social skills development, a few organizations based in Bakersfield focus on support for special education families. Some of these organizations focus on specific developmental or learning disorders, while others have broad programs that encompass more than one disability.

The Kern Autism Network, an affiliate chapter of the Autism Society, hosts monthly family and sibling support group meetings and workshops to help children build social skills as well as an annual Autism Awareness Conference.

Special Education Bakersfield

Bakersfield’s Valley Achievement Center has an afterschool program and a social skills program for autistic children. It also operates an Early Start program for pre-schoolers, which includes behavior analysis and transition planning.

H.E.A.R.T.S. Connection Family Resource Center in Bakersfield offers parents support workshops, mentoring and assistance with IEP development. There’s also fun, social events for special needs children and their families, an educational program using puppets for 4th-grade students to help them understand about learning and developmental disorders, and activities for siblings of special education children.

Bakersfield is also home to the Society for Disabled Children, which supplies speech and language therapy and social activities which could include games, pasta dinners, rock wall climbing and even flying. The Society also oversees a summer camp for children with disabilities.

For legal support and advice, special education parents in Bakersfield can turn to California Special Needs Law Group (CSNLG). CSNLG can assist parents with Individual Education Plan (IEP) development and help to mediate disputes between special education parents and school systems. Their services are available throughout the state.

Valencia is an upscale neighborhood in Santa Clarita, California; thus, special education teachers, parents and students would find resources mainly in that city.

Special Education Valencia

Special education resources for Valencia residents can also be explored in other nearby areas, such as Burbank and Altadena. These resources are offered mainly through nonprofit organizations focusing on a specific learning or developmental disorder, such as autism or Asperger’s syndrome.

Educational Resources for Special Education Teachers, Parents and Students in Valencia

The Santa Clarita Valley Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) offers meetings addressing behavior intervention plans and strategies as well as aspects of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Parents will also find networking opportunities through the SELPA, in addition to workshops. Special education training is also provided.

The Community Advisory Committee, in addition to workshops and meetings, also oversees advocacy and outreach practices.

Through the SELPA’s website, parents can access documents containing information about parents’ rights and a glossary of special education terms.

The Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) offers counseling, mobility instruction, and speech, language, occupational and physical therapy services to special education students. LACOE also offers an Early Start program for special needs children.

Other Special Education Resources Available to Valencia Teachers, Parents and Students

The two organizations closest to Valencia that provide special education information and support for professionals and parents are found in Santa Clarita. They are the Family Focus Center of California State University – Northridge and the Santa Clarita Autism Asperger Network (SCAAN).

The former offers support groups, IEP training and parent mentoring at its Santa Clarita branch, which is located in the North Los Angeles County Regional Center. SCAAN is a networking and support service for special needs families.

Special Education Valencia

About 25 miles southeast of Valencia, the SFV (San Fernando Valley) Autism Families in North Hollywood hosts  workshops, lectures and conferences for parents. Activities designed to build social skills for autistic children are also provided.

Talk About Curing Autism (TACA) holds monthly meetings in both North Hollywood and Burbank. Burbank is about 28 miles outside of Valencia. These meetings can feature educational speakers and allow for special education parents to network with other parents.

About 38 miles southeast, in Altadena, California, Education Spectrum offers programs for children with autism, Asperger’s and related disorders and their families. Parent training sessions conducted by the organization targets behavioral management and intervention strategies and techniques. Children can attend social skills camps and individual or family therapy programs.

Valencia parents of special education children who might need or be interested in legal advice or support can turn to California Special Needs Law Group (CSNLG). Though based in Pasadena, the law firm offers its services, which include conflict mediation and IEP development assistance, throughout the state.

The county seat of Riverside County, the city of Riverside, California, is located approximately 50 miles east of Los Angeles. This fairly large city provides special education resources for students and their families as well as teachers and other educational professionals.

Special Education Riverside

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Many of these resources are offered through learning institutions and government offices. Special education parents, students and teachers can also turn to nonprofit organizations in the area that focus on specific disorders or disabilities.

Riverside Educational Institutions and Their Special Education Resources

The Riverside Unified School District provides special and modified classes for special education students.  On the school’s website, parents, students and teachers will find links to helpful resources:

  • Parents will find links to various organizations focusing on specific learning and developmental disorders as well as special education curriculum information and U.S. Department of Education articles
  • Professionals can access information about IEPs and intervention resources as well as simulated learning experiences and strategic teaching methods
  • Students can enjoy links to online learning aids such as games and stories in addition to online learning assistance tools and textbook sites

According to its website, the Riverside County SELPA (Special Education Local Plan Area) is the “largest multi-district SELPA in California”. This SELPA has an online training development guide for special education teachers and administrators that provides information about meetings, trainings and workshops.

For parents, the Riverside County SELPA has a Community Advisory Committee designed to increase awareness of special education services and provide support for parents. Details about this committee are also found on the organization’s website.

The Sunshine Early Childhood Center in Riverside began as a school for students with Cerebral Palsy in 1947 and today serves special education students with many types of disabilities and disorders, including autism, Down’s syndrome and speech and language impairments. The school has an Early Start program.

Special Education Riverside

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Therapeutic and Support Resources for Special Education Students and Parents in Riverside

Autism Society Inland Empire offers advocacy and support services for special education students and their families. The organization provides these services through parent support groups, workshops, and a regional taskforce. Parents can also access an electronic newsletter with information about autism and referral services.

The organization also hold various social events for parents and special needs children. These events include camps, day ranches and trips to ball games.

The Southern California Tri-Counties Brach of the International Dyslexia Association serves Riverside. This association has a parent support group and an action group focusing on awareness of this disorder. The organization’s website provides an online book list and informational videos.

The Riverside County Department of Mental Health has a children’s treatment center in Riverside that offers individual and family therapy programs, evaluations and case management.

Legal support and advice in the area of special education is provided to Riverside residents by the California Special Needs Law Group (CSNLG). Serving counties throughout the state, CSNLG can help with, among other issues, dispute mediations and IEP development.

Consistently ranking as among the best places to live in the U.S., Irvine, California is located approximately 40 miles from Los Angeles. The city achieves the aforementioned honor in part because it offers a highly-ranked public school system, which provides many several education resources for parents, teachers and students.

Special Education Spotlight Irvine

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Resources can also be found through nonprofit organizations and other learning centers throughout the city. These resources range from therapy programs to online articles.

Educational Resources for Irvine Special Education Teachers and Students

The website of the Irvine Unified School District supplies extensive resources for parents and educators. Parents will find links to online guides regarding special education programs and legislation as well as information about specific disorders such as autism and ADD.

The Orange County Department of Education provides information concerning parent rights, assistive technology and early education programs. Teachers will find training opportunities focusing on classroom management, behavior analysis methods and special education student success strategies.

The Child Development School at University of California – Irvine focuses on supplying a supportive educational environment for children with AD/HD. Services include assessments and transition programs. Behavioral parent training and family social skills training are also offered.

With a location in Irving, the Stowell Learning Center provides assessment and educational therapy programs for students with learning disorders. The center strives to help students improve skills in area of memory, language, communication and attention. The website also has links to many free articles.

Special Education Supportive, Therapeutic and Legal Resources in Irvine

Beyond educational institutions, Irvine is home to several organizations providing services and programs for special education students and their parents.

Irvine-based Talk About Curing Autism (TACA), a nonprofit organization, offers learning seminars and social events for autistic children and families. The organization’s website provides links to helpful articles about therapies, medical interventions, parents’ rights and support groups, and more. Books, DVDs and CDs on autism are available to members through the organization’s resource library.

KiDA (Kids Institute for Development and Advancement) is based in Irvine and serves Orange County. It is the largest Center for Autism in the county and offers clinical and educational services to special education students. These include behavior, occupational, and speech and language therapy, social groups and a school for K-6 students that focuses on behavior management and social skills development.

Special Education Spotlight Irvine

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The Greater Orange County CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) holds general meetings in Irvine. These monthly meetings are intended for parents and teachers of students with AD/HD; meeting topics have ranged from therapy techniques to collaborative strategies.

For legal support, special needs families can turn to the California Special Needs Law Group (CSNLG), which is based in Pasadena but serves areas throughout the state. CSNLG’s services include mediating conflicts between special needs families and school systems and assisting parents with IEP development.