5 Tips for Dealing with Legal Issues in Special Education

After two decades in the autism world, I have found myself in a few legal issues in special education – both as a parent and professional. I’ve learned some lessons about what to do if you find yourself in a legal dispute. Today I’m sharing a small excerpt from a podcast episode I did discussing five lessons I learned about how to deal with legal issues in special education and how to prevent them too. You can check out the full podcast episode by going to www.marybarbara.com/42. I hope you enjoy this short excerpt on five lessons that I learned during legal disputes over the past two decades.

1. Start with Assessment in Special Education

Number one, whenever we’re looking at any kind of problem, we have to start with an assessment. When people start saying, “I’m in big fights with the school,” or “this parent’s being out of control,” or whatever the situation is, let’s start with the facts. What’s the assessment? What does it show language-wise and behavior-wise? How old is the child and where are they academically? Do they have a sibling in the district or are they transitioning into kindergarten or from elementary into middle school? Get as much assessment data as you can to get a clear picture. These are all factors. Also, find out if there’s been any regression.

Besides the assessment, look at the current plan, whether that’s an IEP in the United States or, if you’re birth to three, you’ll get an IFSP. If you’re an adult, you’ll get a different type of plan. Or maybe you’re in another country where maybe there are no plans. But if insurance or someone is paying for ABA or for some educational program or behavioral program, there is probably an assessment, there’s probably a plan and there’s probably a few goals in place. That’s just, in my experience, the way things work. You always need to start with an assessment.

Placement

Then you need to look at placement. What I find a lot is that people are like, “my son needs a one-to-one,” or “my daughter would do better at a private ABA school. She’s floundering in public school.” That’s jumping to the placement before we look at the assessment, the plan, the goals and things like that. You shouldn’t be thinking that far out because everyone’s going to have to see how he or she does first.

When you are thinking about the placement, it needs to be based on the child and what they can handle and what they’ll understand. I was at a conference once and they were selling shirts that said on the front “I have autism” and on the back, they said, “don’t waste my time.” I thought this was really good, even though I am very pro inclusion. But inclusion only works if it’s maximally beneficial to the child.

If you find that your child is not in a safe situation, then, of course, you want to get them out of it.  If your child is in a situation that is not safe, you do want to act immediately and call ChildLine or do whatever you have to do. But in the vast majority of cases, even if you don’t agree that the placement is appropriate, know that the child’s wellbeing is still being managed and well-meaning people are trying to educate your child.

2. Pick a Collaboration Style Over a Competitive Style

My second tip is picking a collaboration style over a competitive style. When you’re buying a car, for instance, you don’t have a relationship with the person you’re buying the car from. The outcome is of high importance. You want to get the best car and the best deal. You can be much more aggressive in your negotiation because you’re never going to see these people again. When you pick a style for negotiation, you have to think about the relationship, if there’s any relationship or if there’s going to be a relationship down the line. Also, think about the outcome in the end. I think working with the educational system and using a collaborative style and focusing on the child is really going to be in the long run your best ability to help your child.

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3. Get Training in Autism Legal Issues

Tip number three is to get training. This is a whole other language. On my first due process case where my attorney was pro bono, he had me coming up with most of the questions. I had to do a lot of the leg work in some respects, and it was almost like taking a graduate-level course in litigation and legal disputes in the autism world.

I ended up taking a two-day boot camp with Wrights Law. We looked at IQ scores – and not just the main score. We looked at the subscores of the IQ test and talked about how to see if a child is potentially gifted and learning disabled, and so much more that I never ever thought were particularly helpful. The more you learn about what a child needs to overcome some of their issues and learning disabilities, the more helpful you can be.

4. Set a Common Goal

The fourth tip is if there is disagreement among the parties, such as the school and the parent or the teacher and the parent, go back to the assessment and the plan to see if there’s a goal. You can say, “I think my son needs a one-to-one, is there a goal? Is there a behavior plan that supports that? Does the assessment support that?” Remember that it all has to lead into the placement and the program – which includes the fact that your child may need a one-to-one.

If there’s such disagreement that you can’t work it out, then at that point maybe getting an independent evaluation – a facilitated IEP in the United States – would be helpful. It doesn’t have to be a full independent evaluation but it could be taking your child to a speech therapist for an evaluation at a hospital and then using that data to show if your child is grade levels behind, for instance. But sometimes having someone come in, who doesn’t have any ties to the child or what the outcomes should be, to make recommendations can be helpful.

5. Use Positive Reinforcement

My last tip is don’t forget about positive reinforcement. We all need at least five positives to every negative. That includes our kids, teachers, parents, school administrators, and principals. If you’re in fight mode all the time, you’re not going to get very far. Do remember that when people really give it their all to make things better, to give them praise and them some reinforcement.

I hope you enjoyed this short snippet from the podcast about legal issues in special education. If you want more content, check out the podcast. For more information, you can attend a free online workshop by going to www.marybarbera.com/workshop.

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You must not rely on the legal information in the BBC Materials as an alternative to advice from your attorney or professional legal services provider. You should never delay seeking legal advice, disregard legal advice, or discontinue legal services as a result of any information provided in the BBC Materials.

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Transcript

After two decades in the autism world, I have found myself in a few legal disputes both as a parent and professional. Thanks to my experiences with these kinds of situations, I’ve learned some lessons about what to do if you find yourself in a legal dispute. Hi, I’m Dr. Mary Barbera, autism mom, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, online course creator, and bestselling author of The Verbal Behavior Approach. Each week I provide you with some of my ideas about turning autism around so if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel, you can do that now. Today I’m sharing a small excerpt from a podcast episode I did discussing five lessons I learned about how to deal with legal disputes and how to prevent them too. You can check out the full podcast episode at marybarbara.com /42 or click the card on the screen now and I hope you enjoy this short excerpt.

So five lessons too that I learned during legal disputes over the past two decades. Number one, whenever we’re looking at any kind of problem, problem behavior of the child, uh, conflict, anything, we have to start with an assessment. So when people start saying, Oh, I’m in big fights with the school, I, you know, this parent’s being out of control, whatever the situation is. Okay, let’s start with the facts. Okay. What’s the assessment? What’s the assessment? What was the last assessment done? What does it show? Language-wise, behavior, uh, academic levels, just all as much assessment data as you have to get a clear picture. The age of the child, whether they have siblings in the district, how far they live from the school, um, whether they’re transitioning in as a new kindergarten student or if they’re transitioning between the elementary school and the middle school, those are all factors, um, what the child was getting last year, what they’re getting this year, if there’s been any regression.

Just all those things come into play. Also looking at, besides the assessment, looking at the current plan, whether that’s an IEP in the United States or whether that’s if you’re young in the United States, if you’re birth to three, um, you’ll get an IFSP. if you’re older and an adult, um, you’ll get a different type of plan. But you know, maybe you’re in another country, maybe there are no plans, but if insurance or someone is paying, education system, someone’s paying for ABA or for some educational program or behavioral program, there is probably an assessment. There’s probably a plan and there’s probably a few goals in place. That’s just in my experience, the way things work. So you’d want to start with an assessment and really look at where we’re at and then we need to also look at the placement. What I find a lot is that people are like, well, my son needs a one-to-one, or my daughter would do better at a private ABA school.

She’s, she’s floundering in public school. That’s jumping to the placement before we look at the assessment, the plan, the goals and things like that. You shouldn’t be thinking that far out because you’re just going to have, everyone’s going to have to see how he does, what his assessment is, what his plan is, what his goals are. When you are thinking about the placements, we have to always say it’s gotta be based on the child and what they, what they can handle and what they’ll understand, you know, I was at a conference once and they were selling shirts that said on the front I have autism. And on the back they said don’t waste my time. And I thought this was really good. I am very pro inclusion, but only to, if it’s maximally beneficial to the child. If you find that your child is not in a safe situation, if you find that you’re, you know, you hear this on the news and it’s horrendous, you know, kids are being, you know, locked in a bathroom or, or you know, abused in any way, then of course you’d want to act and, and call child line and get an attorney or whatever you have to do.

Um, but in the vast, vast majority of cases, even if you don’t agree that the placement is appropriate, it’s, it’s not like the child’s wellbeing isn’t being, you know, managed and, and well meaning people are trying to educate your child. Then I would move on to my second tip, which is picking a collaboration style over a competitive style. When you’re buying a car for instance, you don’t have a relationship with the, with the person you’re buying the car from. It’s of high, the, the important, the outcome is of high importance. You want to get the best car, the best deal and um, you don’t, you know, you don’t want to get a lemon and that sort of thing. So you, you can go in and you can be much more aggressive in your negotiation because you’re never going to see these people again. So, so when you pick a style for negotiation, you have to think about the relationship, if there’s any relationship or if there’s going to be relationship down the line and then also the outcome.

In the end, I think working with the educational system and using a collaborative style and focusing on the child is really going to be in the long run your best ability to help your child in the long run. Number three lesson is to get training. Um, this is a whole other language. Um, I’ve felt like, especially from my first due process case where my attorney was pro bono, he had me doing a lot of the coming up with questions like I had to do a lot of the leg work in some respects, but it was almost like taking a graduate level course in litigation and legal disputes in the, in the autism world.  I attended a bootcamp, a two day bootcamp with Wrights Law.

One of the things I learned about the bootcamp was actually more helpful for clients with higher language skills. And even for my own typically developing son, uh, we looked at like IQ scores and not just the, you know, the IQ is 120 or 115 or whatever it is, or 75. We looked at the subtests, the sub scores of the IQ test and talked about learning disabilities and um, how to see if a child is potentially gifted and learning disabled and, and just a whole bunch of things, um, that I never ever thought of that were particularly helpful. So the more you learn about, you know, what would a child need to overcome some of their issues and learning disabilities and stuff, it was super helpful. The fourth lesson I’ve learned is if there is disagreement among the parties, the school and the parent, the teacher and the parent, um, go back to the assessment and the plan, see if there’s a goal.

You can’t just, well you can, but if you say, I think my son needs a one-to-one, you know, is there a goal? Is there a behavior plan that supports that? Is does the assessment support that? Like it all has to lead into the placement which include, and the program which includes the fact that this child may need a one-to-one. And if there’s such disagreement that you can’t work it out, then at that point maybe getting an independent evaluation, a facilitated IEP in the United States, somebody independent. And it doesn’t have to be like an independent evaluation. It could be that you take your son to a speech therapist for an evaluation at a hospital and then use that data to show if your son is is grade levels behind, for instance. So independent doesn’t mean like an official independent, although I’ve, I’ve been a part of independent evaluations both on the parent side as well as the professional side.

Sometimes having an independent person in come in who doesn’t have any, any, um, ties to the, to the child or to what the outcomes should be, can make a professional, uh, recommendation as to how to solve the conflict. And number five, my last lesson is don’t forget about positive reinforcement. We all need at least five positives to every negative. That includes our kids, the teachers, the parents, the school administrators, the principal. Um, if you’re in fight mode all the time, you’re not going to get very far. Do remember that when people, especially when people are really, you know, doing their all to make it, make it better, don’t forget about praise and about giving them some reinforcement. I hope you enjoyed this short snippet from the podcast. If you want more content, check out the podcast at marybarbera.com/podcast. Wherever you’re watching this, I’d love it if you would leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up, share this video with others who may benefit, and for more information, you can attend a free online workshop at marybarbera.com/workshop and I’ll see you right here next week.

 

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