No Means No...Or Does It?

We all know that "no means no" and we play by that rule.  But, is there ever a need or reason to push back against the answer no?  In one critical area, yes. Ask any parent of a child in special education and they'll tell you just how many times they've heard the word no - or countless variations of the same - to requests, suggestions, and even demands made for something their child needs in school.  It could be an extra speech therapy session to work on social language skills or an aide to enable a bright child with Asperger's Syndrome to be fully included in school.  Maybe it's an alternative environment for lunch or a sensory integration evaluation.  No matter the "ask," the answer is often no.  But the story doesn't end here.

Over the past week, I've spoken with many parents who have expressed their total frustration with their child's school and IEP team.  This isn't to say that there aren't success stories where things are going well.  But far too often, this is hardly the case.  They've asked for things and have been refused.  They've begged for things and have been told it's not an educational need.  They've spent thousands of dollars on private evaluations and therapies which often yield critical information and results that their child's school team has either failed or refused to address.  Any wonder why so many parents are fed-up and worn from the fight?

No is not the end of things when it involves a child in special education.  And while each situation, child, and team is unique, there are a few things that parents need to keep in mind.

  1. If you're told "no" after going into your child's IEP meeting to beg for something because your "heart of hearts" knows it's needed, forget it.   You need to go in with hard data to support the need.
  2. If you're told "no" or encounter resistance to something you've requested, put the request and facts in writing and ensure that there is an action step (e.g. please respond back to us in writing) and deadline (e.g. by April 10th).
  3. If you're told "no" and have been clearly refused, request Prior Written Notice which requires that the school delineate their reasons - in writing - for the refusal.

If you're able (financially and otherwise) to secure private services for something your school district has said no to providing, make certain that your private clinician or provider is capturing data to demonstrate that your child is making progress.  School is all about progress and if your child has failed to make progress prior to the start of a service or support that you're accessing privately (and which the district refused) and then begins to make progress afterward, you need all possible documentation to present to the district.

Bottom-line is this:  Schools will often say no - sometimes using reasons that leave parents shaking their heads in disbelief and then their fists in anger, but that's not the end of the story.  Advocating for your child in school is not for the faint of heart nor is it a short-term process.  Rather, it requires parents to keep "upping the ante" by understanding that "no" is often the first response but may not be the last.

Working Parents -- Start Asking The Tough Questions In School

Why are people so afraid to ask questions?  Okay, let me rephrase...why are parents so afraid to ask questions?  Is it because they don't know the questions to ask, don't want to hear the answers, or are reluctant to question people with expertise they may not have?

This question isn't being posed as something simply to consider, but is being directed in particular to working parents with a child who is struggling in school.  The fact is that while most are truly desperate for knowledge, many are reluctant to open the door to access answers.  But before you say, "Hey...I ask plenty of questions," allow me to elaborate.


If you're a working parent, you're already up to your neck with work/life challenges, particularly if you have a child with, for example, Asperger's Syndrome or a learning disability.  You're struggling to figure out what to do (i.e. what interventions or therapies are appropriate), who should do it (i.e. should you push for these services in school or secure them privately), and how to balance it all (i.e. workplace demands and family responsibilities).  It's a boatload of pressure any way you slice it.

But here's where the "questions" issue comes to a head.  Too many of you are reluctant to ask the psychologist who just completed your child's comprehensive testing to explain the results and data in "lay language" so you can understand it.  A 35-page report and you can't decipher much of it.  You're reluctant to ask your child's tutor (who you're paying for) to show you exactly what skills are being addressed.  You're hesitant to ask your child's teacher for data to support progress or to question things during your child's IEP meeting that are unclear or not making sense.  And if you are asking, you're not asking the questions to yield the information you need.

Questions are not being asked when answers are needed most.  Often times, it's because you see these people as "the experts," therefore it would be wrong, disrespectful, insulting, etc. to question them.  But isn't this precisely what's needed?  And aren't they asking you questions that may make you uncomfortable or push your boundaries?  What's truly puzzling is this -- if you take a similar scenario into the business arena, you are likely fine with asking all kinds of questions and your hesitation to ask is minimal.

I'd like to suggest something here -- that you begin to approach your child's education like you do your work.  In other words, ask yourself whether you're getting a return on your investment.  Is your time (often measured by the hours you're spending away from work handling your child's needs or perhaps reducing your work schedule entirely) and your resources (tapping into savings or borrowing from family) yielding positive results?  If you don't know the answer, you're not asking the tough questions.

Working parents who have children with special needs are mired in a "life mural" that requires unmatched work/life balance strategies.  Confusion and feeling overwhelmed is commonplace.  So what's the solution?  Asking the tough questions of "the experts" and expecting clear answers.  And continuing to ask questions if things remain unclear.  This approach yields powerful results ... and isn't this exactly what you're looking for?

What's Worse...Denial or Fear?

Any parent would tell you that there's nothing worse than thinking or knowing that something is wrong with their child.  The questioning about what did *they* do (or not do), the concerns that perhaps they missed some earlier signs, the worries about the long-term issues that their child may face.  All are very real introspective questions that accompany parenting a struggling child -- it simply goes with the territory.  Many have said that it equates to the stages of grief.   I get it because I, too, have been there. But here's the problem.  Over the past several weeks (and for years beforehand as well), I have spoken with more than a few parents who have rejected the notion that indeed, something is happening with their child in school and that further investigation via evaluations is needed.  One parent stated that he's "just being lazy" while another parent said that "he just needs to focus better."  Another told me that "there's nothing wrong with her that less time on Facebook won't fix" and another said that while her child has already been diagnosed, it's really not what's going on.

Is this denial or fear?  And does it really matter?  The answer is this -- whether it takes two weeks or a year to mobilize, the longer the parents wait to do so, the tougher the path for their child.  We all know parents who kick-it into overdrive immediately, exhausting every possible resource to find answers.  We also know parents who take a "wait and see" approach, certainly understandable when the issues are unclear.  The problems emerge, however, when parents either conclude that whatever is happening is just a passing phase or that a "good talking to" or removing privileges will set the child on the right path.

That expression "it's all about me" comes into play in spades in situations where a parent, because of denial or fear, fails to take action to help their struggling child succeed.  The parent is leading with their own feelings instead of stepping back and realizing that no...this is not about me but rather, it's all about my child.

Each day of lost learning often snowballs into years of struggle.   What starts as a child's inability to read aloud in 2nd Grade often becomes a teen's inability to succeed in a high school public speaking class.  A middle school child without a single friend is a sign that something is amiss.  A child exhibiting troublesome behaviors is communicating that there is something wrong.  Parents need to pay attention and sweep their own feelings aside until the child's struggles are evaluated and interventions are in place.

Acknowledging that your child is struggling isn't easy.  But either is raising a child.  If you know, whether from seeing failing grades, the inability to complete homework, or mounting social and behavioral issues, that your child is not doing well at their job -- i.e. school, fearing what it "could be" or denying what it "is" and not mobilizing just delays acknowledging the fact... something is wrong and it's not going away.

Parenting is as difficult as it is rewarding.  No one prepares any of us for the "what if's" that come along with raising a child from infancy to young adulthood.  Yet parents *are* parents because we have the life experience and wisdom to make the difficult choices and decisions.  We can handle it because we must.


Thoughts About "Education Nation"...

The groundswell is happening although I'm not surprised.   Issues surrounding the state of education have plagued us for years although not until recently -- with issues of achievement, teacher accountability, and bullying coming to the fore -- have people started to really take notice.  And it's about time. During this evening's NBC Nightly News (and after this afternoon's MSNBC "Education Nation" programming), a statistic totally stopped me in my tracks -- 68% of 8th Grade students cannot read at grade level.  That's 68%.  But wait.  I wondered just how many of these students are classified as special education.  And if few are, there is a much larger issue at hand.

Given that special education equates to the delivery of services and supports that address areas of deficit, wouldn't it seem as though *all* of these students would qualify?  Regardless of the reason behind the fact that they are lagging behind, would it not be safe to state that an 8th Grader -- any 8th Grader -- who is reading at a 5th Grade level would have deficits?  Would require remediation?  May need a tutor or alternate teaching methods?

Seems to me that special education needs a clean slate in terms of determining what qualifies a child for these additional services.  If 68% of our 8th Grade students cannot read at grade level and if they need tutors, differentiated instruction, or any of the other ideas being discussed, they should most certainly qualify as "special education".  Perhaps we need to change the phrase "special education" and recognize that many children require *more than* the median in order to read, write, do math, and behave according to determined grade-level standards.

It's time for us to evaluate far more foundational issues regarding the state of public education.  Let's lose the labels and categories and begin addressing the education of our students as they are -- as unique individuals who each possess strengths and needs, the latter of which affects far more students than currently *fit* within the special education confines.

Would love to hear what you think...

IEP Check-Up

Parents often tell me that over the summer, they want nothing to do with IEPs, behavior charts, and home/school communication notebooks.  I get it -- truly I do.   It's a full-time job to be your child's "case manager" and to be responsible for overseeing, facilitating, generating, and coordinating virtually everything related to your child's educational needs. Now the reality check.  If you have not carefully reviewed your child's IEP while sitting on the beach or relaxing at the mountains, now's the time to do it.  School is underway...your child is adjusting to a new teacher, new class, new peers, and likely a new routine.  It's time to review the IEP from last year if being carried over to this year *or* to review the IEP that was developed at the end of last school year *for* this year to be sure it meets your child's needs today.

Your child has changed over the past few months and things that may have been needed in April may not be needed any longer.  Or visa versa.  The IEP is a "living document" and as you know, living things require attention.

So...look at your child's present levels in reading and math particularly if he/she received ESY services and see if progress was made over the summer (or if regression is an issue) and make certain the goals meet current needs.

Review your child's behavior plan (if one existed) to ensure that current behavioral needs are addressed.  Review your child's therapies and ensure that you have an opportunity -- no, *make* an opportunity -- to meet with the speech therapist, OT, PT or any other therapist to introduce your child (from your perspective) and to ensure that you are receiving ongoing communication from them (make sure this is also written into the IEP) about their work with your child this year.

Just as you do a checkup annually for your health, the same applies to the health of your child's IEP.  Current and relevant...this is what's important.