Advocate for your Child in School

Advocate for your Child in School

Although it’s not spring time and you have some time yet before your Annual Review, that doesn’t mean that you still aren’t coming in contact with your Case Manager or teacher.  Unfortunately, there is the idea that needing to have contact with your Case Manager is a ‘bad’ thing, when in reality, you are a team and should be maintaining regular communication throughout the school year.

With that said, I have prepared a list of information tidbits or tips to help you advocate for your child at any time of the school year.

Your child’s IEP goes into effect after 15 days… with or without your signature

I can’t emphasize enough that even though you may choose not to sign your child’s IEP at the meeting, it still goes into effect after 15 days.  If there is any area of the IEP that you are in disagreement with, your lack of a signature does not indicate this. Instead, take your child’s IEP during the meeting and write, by the signature section,  that you are not in agreement with X, Y or Z. Then, date and sign it.

Or, you can wait until the meeting is over, write a letter that specifies what you do not agree with and send it in.  Once your letter is received by the Child Study Team, it is date stamped and your Case Manager has 20 days to respond to you in writing. The letter you receive from your Case Manager may be a request for another meeting, or it may indicate how your he or she is resolving the situation with which you are not in agreement. 

Nonetheless, maintain a paper trail, as email correspondence and phone correspondence do not necessarily fall within the 20 day response rule.  In fact, for many districts, email is still not perceived as formal correspondence. What does that mean for you? You may end up waiting for an email response or a return phone call for several weeks, and your Case Manager is not under any obligation to get back to you within a specific time frame.

Request a Sensory Diet

If your child has sensory needs and becomes dysregulated throughout the school day, ask for a sensory diet to be integrated into your child’s school day.  Request a sensory profile evaluation by your school’s Occupational Therapist, in writing, with the purpose of creating a schedule of sensory exercises that your child can do throughout the school day, either proactively or in response to sensory dysregulation.  This is a great way to avoid behaviors that may be due to a sensory need.  For example, incorporate movement breaks into your child’s day, allow for heavy work or deep pressure to be offered during times of the day that your OT recommends.  If you do not want your child to be singled out amongst his classmates, then ask your teacher to provide sensory diet exercises for the whole class. They are beneficial for everyone!

Reconsider waving your child’s triennial evaluation

You may have had this experience already -- it’s been three years since your child’s last Psychological and Educational testing. Your Case Manager contacts you and states that he or she believes that your child continues to be eligible for special education and related services; therefore, triennial testing is not necessary.  What this means is that the next time your child is up for testing, which is in another 3 years, it will have been a total of 6 years. During this time,  you will not have any updated data about your child’s cognitive and academic functioning. Well, you will have your teachers’ reports in the ‘Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance’ (PLAAFP), progress reports, and information gained during parent-teacher conferences, but there is no standardized data available.

Some Case Managers or even other parents may warn you that if you have your child tested, he may perform well enough that he will no longer be eligible for special education and related services.  If your child is in need of an academic program, she will still be eligible.  Opt for an updated Psychological, Educational, Speech, Occupational, and Physical Therapy evaluation, as applicable. You will be glad to have the data and be able to compare where your child’s strengths and weaknesses have stayed the same or changed.

Behavior Plans -- be a part in planning it

If your child is in need of a behavior plan, review it carefully in terms of the target behaviors and how the plan plans on helping your child to reach that target behavior.  The purpose of the plan is to provide the necessary supports to help your child achieve certain behaviors.  Therefore, review who the support staff within the building are, when they are likely to be asked to intervene, and what type of proactive supports are being put in place. For example, will the Guidance Counselor’s, School Psychologist’s or Nurse’s  office be available to your child when he needs a place to vent or take a break?

Also, be sure that strategies are specified in which staff members will initially look for signs that your child is ‘brewing’ and offer an out before behavior and emotion escalate. For example, if your child is becoming frustrated, your child’s teacher(s) or aide could offer her a break, or have a non-verbal system where your child can pick up a pass and hand it to her teacher. Of course your child can’t go on break for an exorbitant amount of time, but it can be specified that a 3 minute break will be available and that a staff member will help to direct your child back to class.

Positive verbal  and non-verbal praise and reinforcement, and privileges are also big components.  The purpose of the behavior plan is to improve a child’s self-esteem by encouraging him to recognize triggers and identify strategies to de-escalate behaviors before they start.  As a result, there should be a positive attitude built around the behavior plan instead of a punitive one.  Having a person in the building (i.e., Guidance Counselor, Principal, School Psychologist)  to help process these situations and plan for future ones is also a big part of learning to decrease problematic behavior and increase a sense of self and self-control.

Overall, the goal of the behavior plan is to be proactive instead of solely responding to your child’s behaviors after they happen.

As a parent, you have a right to request an IEP meeting at any time to review your child’s progress and make necessary changes to accommodations or services as you see fit. Don’t feel like the only time you can sit down with your IEP team is during your annual review during the spring -- you are the head of the team and you can decide when a change or update is needed!

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Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis See other articles by Dr. Liz Matheis
About the Author:

Dr. Liz Matheis is a clinical psychologist and school psychologist in Parsippany, NJ who provides assessment, psychotherapy, consulting, and advocacy for children and families managing autism spectrum disorders, ADHD and learning disabilities 
( She is also a contributor to several popular press magazines.

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