Objectives of a parent of a child with special needs

          “In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.” 

Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

          It is imperative that you enter into any negotiation, dispute or litigation with a clear objective in mind-what is it that you define as victory.  Once the destination has been identified then the path to that destination will become clear. 

          As the parent of a child with disabilities your objective must be what is best for your child.  What is best for your child is reflected in the stated purpose of the IDEA – “to ensure that all children with a disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living.” 

          A free and appropriate public education means special education which is defined as specially designed instruction, at no cost, to meet the unique needs of a handicapped child, including classroom instruction, instruction in physical education, home instruction and instruction in hospitals and institutions.  Those related services are all services such as transportation and such developmental, corrective or supportive services as may be required to assist a handicapped child to benefit from special education but only including such medical services as are necessary for diagnostic and evaluation. 

          The providing of these services is your objective.   Personality disputes between yourself and the employees or representatives of the school district are not the purpose of the special education committee or of the IDEA.  Disputes between you and the school district impact the success of the special education committee but do not determine the most appropriate course of action for ensuring that your child receives a specialized education curriculum designed to provide your child with the best education, for employment after graduation or for independent living.  Expectations that you will receive an apology or acknowledgment that you were right and they were wrong will not be realized.  Even if you were able to get such an admission how would this benefit your child? 

          To accomplish your objective of first identifying precisely and definitely what your child’s condition is, in other words, an accurate and appropriate diagnosis, the most appropriate educational means of addressing that diagnosis you should focus on this objective.  You may expect that the school district will offer to provide the diagnosis and evaluation for you.  There is nothing wrong with allowing the school district to evaluate your child however you are not bound to accept the evaluation or recommendations of the school district.  A medical opinion is just that-an opinion.  A recommendation is just that-a recommendation.  You are a member of the special education committee, you have a vote, you have a voice, use it.  Unfortunately many times the evaluation and recommendations will track a standardized or uniform set of educational services that the school district is able to provide.  The educational services that the school district proposes may not be the most appropriate for your child’s unique needs. You may ask for an independent evaluation at public expense or you may have an evaluation performed by a physician and evaluator of your choice.  You may usually expect a more objective evaluation from a physician or psychologist who is not employed by the school district.    That evaluation is not at public expense.  There is always an immediate response that “I shouldn’t have to pay for that.”  That is a perfectly natural response however it is more important that there be an accurate and appropriate diagnosis and plan than who has to pay for it.  This calls for an examination of your objective.  Your objective is the best education plan for your child.  My objective is to assist you.  A special education case is litigation and litigation turns on testimony and evidence.  Without evidence to support your position you will not be successful.  To develop the evidence needed to prove your case is not the responsibility of your opponent it is yours. 

          With a clear objective and medical and professional testimony to support your position you can focus on having the education plan adopted as quickly and as efficiently as possible.  You will probably have to file for a due process hearing.  You may be able to resolve the dispute through mediation or a hearing.  If you must you will.  All of these steps are steps toward your ultimate objective of ensuring your child has the best education possible under the circumstances and the best chances for employment and independent living after school.  In the turmoil of litigation it is easy to lose sight of the objective and that objective is what is best for your child.  Let that be your objective and the path will lead to it. 

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