The Special Education Process, and Why a Parent’s Instinct is Key


Your Role as Parent

It’s common to hear of parents of children with special needs struggling for their children to receive an adequate education. What they see and feel, and what they’re told by the school district, is often very different. In their hearts they know they’re child could be doing much better, if only they were given the right support.

A parent’s instinct is one of the strongest instincts out there. I’m not a psychologist, but a school district’s understanding of what your child needs is often not on par with the reality. As a parent, you’re with your child a lot; you worry about them 24/7. You’re with them on the weekends, you’re with them after school, you’re with them before school, you’re with them in the summer, you’re with them on vacations—you know your child. And a school district does not only sees a small aspect of your child’s life and personality.

The one person that knows your child best at the school district is the teacher. However, the teacher does not have the power to make a determination if the child requires extra services, or qualifies for special education and related services. A teacher, unfortunately, has a lot of kids to worry about, and they’re often struggling to keep up with their workload.

I’m not knocking teachers; they do an excellent job given the circumstances that they’re in—however, the very person that knows your child best at the school district rarely will recommend a student to be tested for special education. If the teacher does and the child gets recommended for an assessment, the school psychologists will assess the student, spend a couple of hours with the child, and based on that small window that they observed your child they’ll make a recommendation for qualification of services. If they do not qualify, that’s not the end of the road. That’s why you have to go with your instinct—and if your instinct is telling you that the program offered by the district is not appropriate, then believe your instincts – it’s not right for your child.

What You Can Do

If your instincts tell you that something isn’t right, you need to get an outside assessment—you need to gather more information. You can bring on an attorney, you can bring on an advocate, you can talk to other parents, but you cannot rest until you feel that the district’s offering the right program for your child.

Diligence, diligence, diligence is key. Part of building the package, or putting a case together, is getting the right information. It’s similar to going to a medical doctor—if one doctor tells you something, it’s a really good idea to get a second, third, fourth opinion even, until you feel at ease.

It’s the same principle with the educational system: the district’s not always right. To show or prove that they’re not right, you have to go out and get that information, get additional assessments. I’m not saying you shop around for an assessment that will be written for what you want. It has to be objective; it has to be focused educationally on what your child needs. Having an assessment by an educational psychologist or somebody familiar with the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process is key.

If that assessment doesn’t show the right results, or if you’re uncomfortable with that, then go get a third assessment. It can be a hard uphill battle, but whatever you request from a school district, you have to have proof supported by experts.

Our Role

I rely a lot on parent’s instinct. As a Special Education attorney, while I love meeting their children, the opportunity for me to do that is very limited. I am mostly involved with the legal side—I have to rely on parent’s instinct. We become a team and we work together. Ideally, the assessment will bring to light what your child needs educationally. After sharing the assessment with the school, I thenl put together a program, an IEP that will address all the needs of your child.

Again, you cannot rely on a school district to do that—they don’t know your child like you do. They’re looking at numbers, they’re looking at money, they’re looking at staffing—your child is just a name to them. You’re going to sit in an IEP meeting with a few people at most that have ever met your child. You’re going to have a district administrator making these decisions. You have to go out and get that information if you feel what they’re offering, or failing to offer, or not offering is not adequate. Like I said before, go with your instinct. A parent’s instinct is key for every student’s success in school.


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