In this blog post, I interview special education advocate Chelsea Hull. She has experience, compassion and knowledge of special education laws.
Chelsea Hull is an educational advocate and certified sign language interpreter. She helps families navigate the diagnosis and IEP process. She’s the mother of 2 exceptional children. She’s navigated special education laws as a professional and a parent.
What is step one of advocacy?
The first rule of advocacy is that “if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.” It’s important to document everything. I coach parents to avoid those parking lot or over the phone conversations. Those may provide you with information, but that information can’t be used effectively in formal situations like a legal case. I coach parents to document everything. Usually, I tell parents to communicate through email.
What is a specific learning disability?
A specific learning disability has an impact on a particular area of academic performance. Every state has a different list of specific learning disabilities. Some examples include dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia—these require really specific curricula.
Many kids with dyslexia are not given adequate instruction even when they are diagnosed with a specific learning disability.
Why would a parent want a specific learning disability in the IEP?
To get a specific learning disability, I recommend that parents send a request through email. That way, it’s documented. Most parents don’t know that they need to specify their concerns. Parents will usually say something ambiguous like, “I’m noticing that my child is different from his peers. I think he has autism.” This often isn’t specific enough. Instead, parents should say something like, “My child struggles to make eye contact, has repetitive movements and is more energetic than his peers.” The specificity will help the school move forward with the process.
Will the school diagnose?
The school won’t diagnose. But they can qualify a child for special education under the heading of specific learning disability. Then, under the sld heading, the parent can get services for their child.
What’s the Child Find Law?
The Child Find Law holds schools accountable for special needs children. The law indicates that schools must “look for, find and evaluate kids” for special education.
What got you into advocacy?
As parents we want to connect with others who’ve been through what we’ve been through. When we go to the school, we want to feel heard. We want our concerns to be taken seriously. But when that doesn’t happen, it can painful. I think parents have to develop a way to hold the school accountable.
Hiring an advocate was one of the best things I ever did. That helped me navigate the educational system. Learning your child’s rights is imperative. I became an advocate because another advocate helped me navigate the school system for my child. When I saw how critical her skills were to my child’s success, I felt grateful. I wanted to be a part of another parent’s support system. Thus, I went on to learn all the education laws and skills I needed to know to help a parent advocate for their special needs child.
How long can it take to get an IEP?
Generally, it takes 2-6 months. It varies from state to state. Typically, it takes 3-4 months. That’s a long time when you’re worrying about your child.
Parents need to make a request for an IEP in writing. Explain what you’re seeing so you can prove there’s a valid reason to suspect there’s a disability.
What do you do in the initial consultation?
Parents often don’t know what to ask. I have a 90-minute consultation sometimes to help understand what the parents have been through. From there, I can layout a more thorough plan.
What are some samples of educational support for the child?
In the IEP, sometimes a child will have several reading goals. For example, for dyslexia, the child might need to work on polysyllabic decoding lessons. The goals should be targeted at the child’s specific phonics and phonological deficits.
Some children will have assistive and augmentative devices. For example, the school might provide an iPad with certain apps for a nonverbal child. Some children might need specific books, materials, and equipment. A child with hearing loss might need a Frequency Module System. This is a mic that the teacher wears so the child can hear better: it sets up a link between the teacher’s mic and the child’s ears.
There can also be behavioral plans. If a child is acting out during reading lessons, we will consider if the child needs behavioral support, reading support, or both.
A child with autism might have a concrete visual schedule. Some kids benefit from a heavy backpack. The weight can be a sensory way to soothe them. Some kids need to get up and down and move often. A child might need occupational therapy. Some kids need a little rest area for a sensory break. There are different modes of support for various needs.
I love helping children get the support they need at school. I’ve seen kids excel once they get what they need.