In this third installation of my column addressing often-asked questions about navigating the special education universe, I continue my interview with veteran special education advocate, Aurelia Mack, CEO/founder of Wings of Success for Children with Special & Exceptional Needs Inc. Mack’s advocacy has proven—just because the government isn’t doing something now, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. You may have to be the one to change the law.
KLA: IEP meetings are paramount in making sure parent and DOE officials set academic goals, and services such as speech, OT, PT, counseling for special-needs students. How should a parent prepare?
AM: Every time you get a report card, the DOE has to give you a progress report. That’s how you measure goals and progress. Goals have to be measurable, and progress cannot be minimal or trivial; it must be substantial. If they say, he or she got a grade 65 and passed, that’s against the law. They’re not supposed to lower the standards and say it’s acceptable. Also, be careful with the words you use at the meeting. You can’t say, “I want the ‘best’ for my child.” The word “best” is not measurable. You want measurable goals with substantial gains. Sometimes, they’ll say the student only has to achieve 40% of the goal. That’s too low. You always want to up the percentile. For example, 80% shows that they’re learning, and now it’s time to change the goal. Also, the same goals shouldn’t be repeated year after year.
KLA: What if the student’s report states: “Goal anticipated, not yet met.”
AM: If they’re not gaining the goal, what is the reason they’re not making measurable or substantial progress? What is this child’s learning style? This is when the multi-sensory approach to learning comes in as some students are more tactile-, visual-, auditory- or kinesthetic-learners. The appropriate learning style must be identified to accommodate the child.
KLA: What if a parent is interested in an alternative to the DOE’s District 75 program, such as a private school, but can’t afford an attorney, what should they do?
AM: That happened to me. I had to do three of my sons’ cases at the same time because they were all failing. I called every attorney and asked them for pro bono services. Six of them turned me down, but I kept calling, until one finally said yes. He handled one of my son’s cases, and I personally did the other two. A good resource is the Lawyers Alliance of NYC. One note of caution, don’t believe anyone who says you can’t fight for everything because you get can’t get everything. Not true. Your child is entitled to everything they need and deserve.
In my next column, I address more questions regarding the special-needs universe, specifically focusing on adults. As many caregivers and adult special-needs individuals attest, once phased out of the school system, you’re faced with a brick wall in terms of services and opportunities. Folks, that story line can be re-written. Learn how it can be achieved.
Join Rockaway Beach Autism Families’ next support group meeting on Thursday, November 17, 7 p.m. at Knights of Columbus. (333 Beach 90th Street). For info, visit: Rockaway Beach Autism Families on Facebook/Instagram.