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Across the Table

Note:  After you read Cathy's post, we're sharing two "must have" books from Skyhorse and the Children's Health Defense imprint about special education and a book coming out in August that breaks down the IEP process from Connecticut-based advocate Julie Swanson and special education lawyer Jennifer Laviano.  

By Cathy Jameson

I’ve had the opportunity to be on the other side of the table observing the IEP process.  It’s no easier than being on the side I’ve always been on – on the side with my son.  The prep work, the research, the necessary documentation, it all takes hours.  It also takes courage.

When Ronan was in school, we had all manner of IEP experiences.  From the most incredible meetings to the extremely tiring ones that dragged on for hours, I am glad that those are behind us.  During that time, I learned not just about special education but how to truly advocate.  Some of my son’s teams advocated with me, and I’m very grateful for that Dream Team.  But others, well, I can’t talk about them without getting a little upset. 

Knowing that a family fresh in the IEP world needs great support, I thought back to those tough days.  Would I want them to experience the very worst that special education has to offer?  No way.  I want them to know everything they could ask for.  So, I worked hard to be the advocate I wished that I had when it was just me against Ronan’s team. 

That sounds terrible – me against them. 

But that happened, and I know it still happens to some families.

Not on my watch.

So, I researched for a child who isn’t mine.  I advocated for parents who have barely put their feet on the IEP path.  I documented the pros, the cons, the ‘what ifs’, and the ‘what can be’ with them and for them.  I shared everything I could and then followed up so they wouldn’t feel alone.  That part was always hard, the hours and days after a meeting.  Even after a good meeting, I’d feel so overwhelmed.  There was always more to do!  So, I made sure to follow up, to be available, to say…Hey mama, I’m here, we’re here, and we truly want to help…

I didn’t cry when the young mom did as the meeting wrapped up, but my heart ached for her during the meeting and long after it.  How I ached to see that mom cry.  I could see myself in her - young, hopeful, and wanting.  She wants so much for her child to be able to stay in general education without supports.  Right now, though, that is out of reach.

Right now, the parents are rethinking things.  Next school year will look different for them.  The following year likely will, too.  Could their child be in gen ed without supports?  I can’t say, and I won’t say.  It’s not my place.  My place right now is across the table from them with other educators and advocates.  I never thought I’d find myself there.  Now that I am, I want to be everything my son’s worst teams weren’t for him.  I want to be part of that old Dream Team we had once – they were helpful, truthful, kind, and compassionate.  If I can give back what others failed to give me, it will be worth every emotion that comes with advocating for a stranger’s child with special needs.

Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.

IEP Guide For AllIEP Guide for All: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About Individualized Education

By Julie Swanson and Jennifer Laviano
Children's Health Defense Imprint

A Comprehensive and Accessible Guide to the IEP Process The IEP process can be confusing, frustrating, and time-consuming. Understanding what your child or student needs is one thing, but getting them help and resources can be another thing altogether. Drawing on decades of experience, Jennifer Laviano and Julie Swanson are uniquely positioned to guide both parents and teachers through the IEP process. The IEP Guide for All breaks down the legal and standardized language and will leave parents feeling confident while navigating the IEP process. Whether you're a parent, a first-time educator, or an experienced educator, this guide will help get students the resources they need and highlight what everyone needs to know about the IEP process.

Your Special Education Rights Your SPED rights
By Julie Swanson and Jennifer Laviano
Skyhorse Publishing

 The definitive guide for parents of children with disabilities is out. This book is authored by two special education experts and draws on decades of experience from the front lines of special education advocacy. The authors, Jennifer Laviano and Julie Swanson, detail a strong, practical, and results oriented perspective that helps parents cut through the fog of special education to get the services their children deserve. "Our bottom line is parents are often ineffective at advocating for their child because they don't know their rights," said Jennifer Laviano, co-author and special education attorney. "We see it time and again: The child doesn't get what he or she needs because the parents don't know what they don't know. This book looks to change that," Laviano added.Your Special Education Rights demystifies the federal laws related to public school children with disabilities and explains how school districts often ignore or circumvent the law.



Cathy, you bring the compassionate empathy that arises from years of advocating for Ronan. May you always be a beacon leading the way for other parents.

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