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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.