Communication is Key!

Last week, I wrote to my daughter’s teacher and shared my “All About Her” letter. This is standard practice for me every school year. I love that I get to brag about her and explain what works. I also love writing out her specific needs/weaknesses. I love explaining the history of what we know doesn’t work. The teacher loves how honest I am and has a great starting point. It is a wonderful communication tool! I encourage every family I work with to start this practice. There is a real purpose to communicating early and often. It sets a tone and helps the people on your child’s team understand you know them best. This not only helps your child, but it also helps their teacher shape their learning experience specific to their needs. However, this typically does NOT trigger any kind of IEP/504 meeting or being evaluated for a potential disability. (Even though it probably should.) This is where parents start getting confused.

Often families who start working with me tell me they have contacted the school multiple times. They tell me, “I’ve told them my child can’t read. I’ve told them my child is depressed. I’ve told them my child can’t focus.” And to many, this is what they consider initiating a conversation about a potential disability. I can tell you it is not.

First, most of this communication happens with the classroom teacher. FANTASTIC! I love it when families have a good relationship with their child’s teacher. However, in all of my years of teaching not one time did an email, comment, conversation, or request ever lead to a child being tested for a disability. Not once. Most classroom teachers have no idea how to even request services for your child.

Second, when I am looking over emails or texts or an entire educational record, the information parents give is always vague. It usually sounds something like this:

“Dear Mr./Ms Teacher,
Hey! Just wanted to send a quick email telling you I am worried about Johnny’s reading. He just doesn’t seem to be getting it. What do you think?”

This is NOT going to trigger a comprehensive educational evaluation. This is not going to trigger individualized instruction. This is going to gain empathy for your child. This is going to get a teacher looking into how your child’s reading gains. You might even get a response like, “Everything is fine. Children develop differently. Don’t worry.” And then you find yourself worrying year after year because nothing is changing. So how do we get that change? We write another letter! A better one!

Here are my best tips for an effective, “get attention” letter:

1. ALWAYS keep it friendly and professional. Leave your worries, your feelings, your anxiety out of it. (The best word to use is “concern” if you must include something of that nature.) Introduce yourself, explain a little about your child’s history and then move onto your request.

2. Be DETAILED. Simply saying my child is having trouble focusing is not going to get you far. Tell them they can’t sit still, they are out of their seat, they switch topics every five seconds; tell them whatever you objectively observe at home.

3. Include an encouraging call to action, whether that be asking for evaluations, accommodations, a written plan, or meeting in person. I used the word “encouraging” on purpose. I have seen too many demanding “call to action” letters that alienate educators and put them on the defensive. Mention working as a team to figure out what is appropriate for your child.

4. Send it to more than one person. Send it to the teacher, the principal, the school psychologist, and/or the special education teacher. This information is all easy to find online.

I had multiple families utilize this strategy since school has started and things are changing. Meetings are being held, testing is being completed, documentation is happening, and everyone is looking to meet the unique needs of a child. I love being involved in this process! Send me your letters, I’ll look them over, make some suggestions and smile as you watch your struggling child suddenly get some help.

Defending Children in a Broken System

Recently, I have had the opportunity to discuss what I do within this system of special education with a variety of people. I always respond that my goal is to level the playing field for families who have no knowledge of educational language, methods, or appropriate interventions and to inspire those around me to think differently about a child. I found their comments intriguing. One said, “It’s almost like you’re a defense attorney.” Profound statement! Why would a system that loves and supports children and is designed to meet their unique needs, warrant a defense attorney? These children are not criminals. They haven’t done anything wrong. They do not need to be punished. They are children who think, learn, and interact with others in a non-typical way. Yet, often those of us working to help them feel as if they are being treated as such by “the system”.

Ahh… “the system”. Amongst my fellow advocates, we talk about “the system” all the time. The system won’t allow certain therapies, the system won’t all certain methods, the system is short-staffed, the system is overstressed, the system if failing. All true! Inherently though, “the system” often treats special education students as an inconvenience. (I know this is hard to discuss and I am probably offending everyone from teachers to parents but stay with me.) These students take the most time, the most skilled interventions, and often need additional staff and resources that take significant funding. Students in special education are not labeled as the “easy” student. It is often quite the opposite. They are atypical and often do not fit the mold of conventional teaching methods or traditional schools. They may even need in school instruction from those outside “the system” who have dedicated their adult lives to honing their skills as specialists.

On some level, the request for additional services is seen as a burden, a problem, or catering to a child/parents’ whim. Many of us have experienced this truth. Recently, there has been a significant uptick in gaslighting and dismissing the concerns of families. We become the problem, we become labeled as difficult and wrong. We find ourselves second guessing our requests. Were we wrong? Were we asking for too much? Are we overreacting? Are we the problem? Is my child the problem? Are we not being considerate of the needs of the school? Is my child the reason the system is strained? WOW! That is a lot to process!

Understanding we are trying to educate students that do not reflect common and established teaching methods can influence the plan we develop. This is where a child’s disability and the challenges that come with it become the perceived cause of the disagreement. In many IEP meetings there is this unspoken tension. The sighs, the eye rolling, the large silent pauses, the use of the word “no” over and over. The situation is permeated with negativity when it comes to requests for testing, intervention, and help. When parents come in with questions, outside resources, or an advocate the air suddenly leaves the room. (I do my best to put everyone at ease, but that is not my job or my responsibility. My job is to speak on behalf of the child and their family.)

Those in “the system” will disagree. They may even feel judged by my opinion on this topic. They will say, we love these kids, we love what we do. We do our best to accommodate everyone. I believe them. I honestly believe their intentions are good. I know many dedicated and kind people in special education. I know many who go above and beyond. I know many who think outside the box and welcome input. These are my go-to people whom I trust! However, I also know many unwelcoming, threatening, and rigid people in special education. They hold so tightly to their way of doing things it is a detriment to the children in their care. These are the people I am constantly trying to reach, even if my attempts are futile.

I am there to help people truly see a child. I am there to offer creative solutions. I am there to inspire. I want them to know it is ok to hold a love of education and a frustration with education at the same time. You can love something AND you can also be completely overwhelmed by it. You can have advanced degrees AND lack knowledge in certain areas. You can love to work with kids AND still fear their behaviors. You can be a trained expert in one method AND still need help and insight using a different method. These can co-exist. It does not mean the system is bad. It doesn’t mean the teacher is terrible and it sure doesn’t mean the student is the problem. It just means “the system” is not being honest with itself. It is ok to admit when something is not working. It is ok to learn and try new things. It is ok to ask for all parties to ask for what they need, and it is ok to say yes to them.

A system that discourages this type of collaboration and compromise needs to change. A system that makes parents feel like their child needs a defense attorney needs to change. What if “the system” approached unique learners as the law intends?

Yes! They can stay in the general classroom setting with support services.
Yes! We want to include the input from their therapist.
Yes! Train our staff on the methods the data shows works for your child.
Yes! I am glad you asked for an evaluation, something is hindering your child’s ability to learn.
Yes! This plan is not working, let’s make changes.
Yes! Bring someone along who can offer you support in a world you know little about.

What if a switch flipped and the intended concept of everyone at the meeting being an equal team member was honored? What if everyone’s input was considered and weighed against a child’s needs? The so called “system” would no longer be seen as an untrustworthy enemy. The system might actually work.

To all of you navigating this with me, keep on keeping on. We will learn together, grow together, and keep trying. We will change this pervasive, underlying, unspoken, negativity to special education. We will keep being reasonable and creative and collaborative. Let’s keep painting beautiful pictures of our children together!

Jackie Waldie
Inspire Education

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Do you feel heard?

I help families whose children have Dyslexia. The story is always the same, ALWAYS. Their child is struggling with reading, writing, and spelling from as soon as parents can remember. The parents begin to worry and are reassured by very well-intentioned, well-trained educators that their child will get there. They are told, “This takes time, read more at home.” As years go by, their children are pulled for small group work; maybe some word work is added, maybe more reading time is added, maybe they go in the hallway and read with a volunteer. Yet, test scores continually show this child is making minuscule gains, sometimes an entire year will go by with no improvement. They are just not at grade level. At some point, everyone realizes this child is not making adequate progress, everyone see’s the struggle, and everyone is doing the best they can with the knowledge they have to help this child. Then suddenly, things take a turn. The parents begin to lose trust in their educators. Their child begins to give up. Lots of googling happens and parents begin to suspect Dyslexia. They suddenly realize their child is being described in every post, every website, and every forum they read. They get brave and go to the school and say, “Could my child have Dyslexia?” The BIG question! Parents believe they asked so things will change. Often, it does not. Often, parents are dismissed. This is heartbreaking. Here is what I want all parents and educators to know when the word “Dyslexia” is mentioned:

1. Educators, parents that ask this question are not crazy. Please stop making them out to be. Please stop vilifying them, claiming they are making excuses for their lazy child. Dyslexia is REAL and Dyslexia has been recognized as a disability since 1975. The state of South Dakota even has a handbook all about it.

2. Educators, parents do not think you are a bad teacher or are questioning your professionalism. They are frustrated. They are sad their child hates to read and write. They are only looking to try something different because the years of what has been used is not working.

3. Parents, please understand most educators CANNOT answer the BIG question. This can only be answered through specific evaluations that address ALL the components of dyslexia. This includes making sure your child is evaluated for decoding, phonemic awareness, processing speed, fluency, comprehension, receptive and expressive language, syntax, sound symbol association, morphology, written expression, verbal and non-verbal learning skills, and anything connected to underlying language skills. This can include speech and auditory processing.
Most schools DO NOT do testing this comprehensive. You may have to ask for it. You may have to get an independent evaluation.

4. Parents, please understand, most people (educator or not) are not trained in Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, or Dysgraphia. (These all go hand in hand, more often than not.) You may have to hire your own specialist to work with your child outside of school. Most schools in South Dakota are not equipped to intervene properly. If someone tells you they are, please ask about their training and experience. I find, it is usually a one-week course they took online. (It’s better than nothing but still not what I would call sufficiently trained.)

5. Dyslexia does not have an overnight, easy fix. This is not something that will go away. This is a disability that your child will learn to manage.

6. Kids with Dyslexia are GREAT at hiding. They are good at masking the indicators and do not want anyone to know they cannot read or write. (We know they can read and write, just below grade level.) To a child with Dyslexia, they FEEL like they cannot read and write. They hurt, they feel dumb, the feel not good enough, they feel frustrated, they feel like they need to avoid all things literacy. Reading more, using the same methods, in small groups is NOT an individualized educational plan. It is just compounding the problem. It is making a Dyslexic child feel worse, feel dumb, and feel like they cannot grow, learn, or succeed.

7. There is nothing wrong with admitting when something is not working. Whether it be a curriculum, a method, a strategy, if it does not work stop using it. Try something different. This is what makes us GOOD parents and GOOD educators. We are willing to understand how this child learns and apply it to their daily routine.

My goal is to take they personal judgements out of Dyslexia. It is a diagnosis. It is a disability recognized by the federal government. It takes specific teaching methods to help a child manage. These are facts. These are not open to debate. These are things we have known since the Americans with Disabilities Act was issued. If a child is displaying the inability to understand or communicate using spoken language, written language, and cannot read, write, or spell they are protected as a person with a disability. If we stick to the facts, how many children with Dyslexia would be receiving help today? How would that transform our educational system? How would that change lives? Use the word “Dyslexia”; say it often, research it, talk about it, and watch the change happen. 605-431-3318

The One Hour Challenge

I am issuing a challenge! I truly believe you can change your life with one decision or one conversation. I challenge families across the State of South Dakota to spend one hour with me to talk about their child’s needs in education. One hour to change your perspective, to start creating a plan, to put specific steps in motion, and to get involved! Many people think of advocacy as a person who goes in and fights the battle for them. They can be reluctant to use my services for fear of the perception it may cause. However, I am here to remind everyone that fighting battles for you is NOT the goal of advocacy. A trained advocate knows the importance of empowering parents. I am here to make sure your input is included in every step of the process. I am here to learn about your child and their dreams for the future. I am here to ensure the schools know about these dreams so we can be a team that works together to achieve them. This is where the one-hour challenge comes in.

What can we achieve in one hour of time? Plenty! You can vent, tell me your frustrations and I can help you be calm and balanced for a meeting. We can talk about your child’s history and how to include that information. We can look over an IEP or 504 plan and look for ways to incorporate your ideas. We can talk about accommodations. We can talk about curriculum and requirements. I can meet your child and hear from them about what works or does not work in school. The list and possibilities are endless. One hour can make a difference! It is a reasonably priced way of dipping your toe into the world of advocacy without fearing how much everything will cost. It’s a way of gaining knowledge and preparing for the future. The time is now! Do not wait until a few days before your IEP meeting. Do not wait until parent/teacher conferences. Do not wait until you are overwhelmed or angry. Do not wait until your child is failing or getting in trouble. There is confidence and comfort in being proactive. Let’s be deliberate, direct, and diplomatic this year to PREVENT problems. Let’s build positive relationships with everyone on the team. Give me ONE HOUR of your time and see the difference it can make!

Hey Educators!

Guess what? As a special education advocate, I am not the enemy. What I am is a former public educator who has been in your shoes. I taught 5th grade for 12 years and I was good at it. I received numerous awards during my time in the classroom, including South Dakota Teacher of the Year. I also have my Master’s Degree in Education. Yet with all these accolades and degree’s, I can tell you I failed so many students. I began my educational career with exactly one class in special education on my resume. ONE! After 12 years of teaching, it was still ONE. I had no training in Dyslexia, no training in Autism, no training in emotional problems, no training in ODD, no training in Downs Syndrome; yet I was expected to sit at that IEP table and contribute. I was expected to execute that IEP like I knew what I was doing. I read books, took Love and Logic classes, and did what I could but deep down I knew I was out of my depth with some of my students. They needed more. They needed experts in their area of need. I knew those kids deserved better.

I am ashamed to admit, understanding these differently abled people and how they learned was not at the top of my to do list. I regret this every single day. This is one of the big reasons I chose advocacy, I chose to complete two and half years of training with national organizations like COPAA and ISEA. I chose to learn about Orton-Gillingham. I chose to rely on experts in OT or ABA therapy because they know better. I realized when kids were having meltdowns, throwing things, threatening others, I had NO IDEA how to respond in a way that could truly help them. When I had students who still could not read or write effectively after all my whole language strategies, I had NO IDEA they needed something more structured. As an educator, I hated it. I hated I could not help these kids. I hated they left my classroom missing some valuable tools. I hated no one was helping when I was saying over and over, “Something is off. This child needs more. This child needs something different.” To be clear, saying these statements should not make anyone the enemy, not even me, the child’s advocate. Saying this makes me an advocate who believes in the power of public education. It makes me an advocate who believes in teachers and believes the system can work. It makes me someone who is flexible and willing to try new things. It makes me someone willing to learn and admit they need help. It does not make me your enemy.

Somehow, last year advocacy became the enemy of public educators across the nation. I even felt those effects here in South Dakota. Out of all the teams I worked with last year I can only cite two who were kind, understanding, and open to the presence of an advocate. That is sad. I found myself in IEP meetings shocked at some people’s reaction to my presence. The anger, the condescending tones, the gaslighting; it was awful. I was sworn at, yelled at and accused of terrible things. This is unacceptable behavior in public education and therefore deserves the reminder again, I am not the enemy.

The true enemy is being closed off to a family’s requests, not being open to new ideas, and not allowing yourself to be open to discussion and compromise. I may hold you to a high standard, I may ask more of you for the sake of a child, I may write down what is being said for a clear record moving forward, I may ask hard questions, and I may even challenge status quo. This does not make me your enemy. This makes me the kind of teammate you want to work with, the kind of teammate who is open to new ideas, who puts children ahead of everything and everyone else, and who will do her best to help that child learn, regulate, and have written in their plan anything else they need. I know it is YOUR classroom, YOUR school, YOUR day to day with this child. If the child gets what they need, if they can find that success, the child will be better for it and so will YOUR classroom. As the school year begins, if I am at your IEP meeting know I will continue to speak up for the best interest of the child. The only thing I ask in return is to remember, I am not the enemy.

Back to School!

It is AUGUST! My goodness this summer flew by! I spent the time off from advocacy reshaping and reclaiming the mission of my business. Something I rediscovered is my love for coaching parents through this process. I had one coaching session that reminded me how much families really do need help. This awesome, kind, loving Mom had been pushed to her limit. She felt lost, powerless, and in over her head. In 2 hours, we were able to identify what was causing all the strife and create a solid plan to communicate the needs of her child in a more effective way. I loved hearing the optimism in her voice again! This is when I realized families don’t need someone to go into their meetings and yell or be demanding; they don’t need threats or vague promises. They need a trusted guide. They need someone outside the system to offer them support and knowledge. They need someone to help them trust their gut and give them the language to express all their thoughts and emotions about their child’s progress.

With this renewed outlook, we will be shifting some of our services for the coming school year. We are going to focus more on coaching families, sharing our skill set, and helping parents become empowered, equal participants at the IEP table. We will still attend IEP meetings and offer our advocacy services but only AFTER some specific steps have been taken.

In order to attend an IEP meeting, we will need to meet with you and your child. Together, we will create a plan to start helping you communicate in a way teachers and administrators will understand. We need to review ALL documentation and set realistic, reasonable goals. This must be done FIRST. You will be amazed how effective you can be with the right educational language and written responses. Remember, my goal is to put myself out of a job. I want you to have all the tools and confidence you need to communicate effectively with the school team. Now is the time! Do not wait until everyone is stressed and busy and your child is failing. Intervene early and intervene often. I look forward to a year of inspiring!, 605-431-3318,

Positives from the 2020-2021 school year

The BIG positive message from the 2020-2021 school year is persistence pays off! I worked with many families who were persistent (and somewhat relentless) in getting their children help. Some had documented requests dating back 7 years! I am excited to tell these success stories and to demonstrate how advocates, families, and schools can work together.

First, I want to focus on the families who have children with Dyslexia. Some needed full advocacy support, while others only needed some basic training. Either way, the work was worth it! These students were tested in elementary school and they did not qualify. (Scores were not low enough, achievement was not low enough, but the parents also learned they were not specific enough.) These three families learned the importance of being specific when you suspect your child has a learning disability. Detail, in writing, exactly what you see at home and school. They gave concrete examples and some even submitted audio/video recordings of their children reading. This kind of evidence makes a difference! They also had the advantage of working with awesome school teams. School psychologists, administrators, and teachers who really listened and were there to help. I was profoundly grateful to come along side these families to coach, advocate, and support them through the process. All three qualified for IEP’s. This is a huge celebration because now they have extra-help available to them through different classes, specialized instruction with an Orton Gillingham approved program, assistance from paraprofessionals, technology tools, and other accommodations that will help them unlock their potential. I am so excited to see what their future holds!

Some of the families I had the opportunity to assist were looking for basic guidance. They knew they could handle the meeting, but wanted to be fully informed about the IEP/504 process. I love doing this! We had a few zoom meetings where I explained everything about 504’s and IEP’s. I also gave them a list of questions to ask specific to the needs of their child and important steps to follow. They did beautifully and obtained appropriate services for their children! This made me take a second look at the power of coaching and the need to EMPOWER parents. Look for more of this strategy in the future.

Next, I had the opportunity to help two children transfer to buildings where there were more resources and staff trained in their specific area of disability. These two situations were urgent and filled with emotion. I was honored to be the one to calm the waters, remind the families to stay logical and give as much evidence as possible to help the powers that be make the decision we were requesting. In the end, they were transferred, and it all worked out for the better. These kids are thriving!

Unfortunately, advocacy does not always go smoothly. I did help one family this year, who were in a particularly stressful and difficult situation. It involved the awful practice of seclusion and restraint. Without disclosing too many details, we knew the school was not prepared or trained to offer the proper supports and interventions for their child. We advocated for 6 months and were successful in all our requests with the help of an attorney. This family not only prevailed for their child but for all other differently abled children. (There is far more to this case but for the privacy of all involved I am trying to be as vague as possible.) I am relieved to report the child is doing well and I look forward to checking in on them in the future. With their new plan, I am sure I will hear about all the wonderful things they are accomplishing.

Finally, my last update is about three young people all poised to leave high school. The families knew they were just not ready to take on the real-world, so our advocacy efforts were spent on preparing for the future. One of these young people is in an amazing program for the next two years where they will receive on the job training, soft-skills, and practice independent living. They even got to start this summer doing some job shadowing and participating in a transition group. The other two are also practicing soft-skills and life-skills within the school setting. Both are getting ready to take their driver’s exams and have their first summer jobs. I cannot imagine where these three would be without these amazing learning opportunities and the advocacy efforts their parents committed to on their behalf. These students are even learning the important skill of self-advocacy! I am proud of them!

In the end, when I reflect on my role in all this change, I realized my task was simple. I helped families shape, verbalize, a document their concerns, requests, and insights about their child. They were the ones who did it all! I just offered guidance and support. I am completely humbled to be a small part of their journey. Across the State of South Dakota, parents are learning about their rights and how to obtain reasonable/appropriate services for their child. I can hear those winds of change building!
Call me to talk about how we can shift these winds your way! 605-431-3318

*Disclaimer: this post contains information about cases that took place in various districts across the State of South Dakota and across multiple grade levels. No specific district is mentioned nor should be inferred from any of the information listed above.

Honesty is the best policy…

As I spend the first few weeks of summer recharging, refocusing, and renewing I am spending a great deal of time reflecting on the school year. You know what? It was NOT easy and processing all I learned an experienced is not easy either. I am struggling sorting through the emotional labor that was this school year. From Covid restrictions, ridiculous decisions made by bureaucrats, and the amount of negativity that filled meetings, it is hard to focus on the positives. (So, bear with me if this post veers off the positivity track for a moment.) The only word that keeps coming to my mind is: challenging. This year was challenging. The start of the school year was filled with unknowns, delays, and massive implications from Covid. I urged everyone to use grace with each other because parents and staff alike were getting frustrated. Then school went back into session, and we had kids coping with the transition between online and face to face learning. It seemed like there were races to hold meetings and evaluate kids. Children were being categorized as “not low enough”, there were staff and funding shortages, and suddenly we went from feeling frustrated to feeling angry and overwhelmed. We just kept facing one challenging situation after another.

Personally, I had all this amazing training from ISEA I was excited to put into practice. I was excited to work with teams and make a difference in the life of a child. However, I found it challenging (There’s that word again!) to balance all I knew, all the love for kids I had in my heart, and my deep-rooted desire to be helpful with using this new information wisely. I never wanted it to be a weapon; or even perceived as one. Working on changing that perception was challenging. (Again, the word of the year.) I would do my best to build relationships, be kind, and be complimentary but the truth was sometimes what I said was not popular. Sometimes what I had to say was hard to hear.

Many of the families I helped this year had children who were falling severely behind, and a sense of urgency could be felt all around. They had children who were not getting the help they needed. They had children who had learning disabilities but were not being serviced. They had children whose mental health was quickly moving beyond “at-risk”. There were threats of suicide, seclusion and restraint being used when unnecessary, children who clearly could not read but still being passed along, accommodations being refused, and parent requests being ignored. These families and children needed help. Most of them, that I had the honor of advising, were successful through advocacy. They documented, they gathered data, the asked questions, they shared concerns in writing, and opened the lines of communication. We did all of this in a kind, honest, and professional manner. However, some still saw no results. Some will need to come back again next school year with more data, more evidence, and document requests in writing again. Because sometimes it takes that level of persistence to make a change. As I move forward through thoughts, plans, and establishing some resolve I will make it a point to post about my successes. If you are a family who is in this same mental state, let’s focus on the good together. Call me to vent, to process, or simply ask a question. Let’s use the summer to refocus and remind ourselves why we do such challenging work. In the meantime, stay tuned to my Facebook page for updates and all the good that is happening. We had some HUGE successes this year I cannot wait to talk about! I hope it fills your cup! 605-431-3318

People often ask, “What is your number one piece of advocacy advice?” It is quite simple. Follow up AND follow through. These are two vastly different concepts. Doing both consistently is effective and can make a huge difference in your child’s education.

Following up is the simple step of sending an email restating questions you have asked, asking new questions for clarification, sharing information, and keeping the lines of communication open. Follow-up is self-explanatory. I am “following up” about a conversation or I am “following up” with some additional accommodations; you can follow up with all kinds of information. This type of communication strategy is positive and engaging. It is a great way for parents to stay informed and to share your input.

Following through takes “following up” a step further. It is a game changer. When used consistently, it sends the message you will do what you say you will do. You do not rely on empty threats, veiled accusations, or any other negative tactic. If I say I will research something, I do and I share my findings. If I say I will speak up about a topic, I do. If I say I have questions, I ask them. This is the one thing I wish all parents mastered early in the IEP process. Do not say, I’m getting an independent evaluation.” and then not do it. Do not say, “I will consider this placement.” and then never respond with your decision. It turns active communication into an empty threat. If you plan on referencing your rights and then not using them, the consequences fall on you. Saying, “I will write a letter to the school summarizing what went well at our meeting, what I appreciated, and areas I think we still need to work on.” is great but actually doing it, is even better! Following through establishes integrity. It creates a solid paper trail. It means you are an informed, knowledgeable parent who is to be taken seriously. It means when you say something the district knows you mean it.

Too many empty promises from parents have fostered an environment where schools believe parents will eventually give up their quest for appropriate services for their child. They know this! They will wait you out and count on the fact you will not follow-up or follow through. Until one day you do… you start doing everything in writing, you track the questions you have asked and the answers you received, you track progress and goals, you keep tabs on accommodations and class schedules, you become an empowered and engaged parent. Consistently following up and following-through will establish yourself as a formidable parent who puts their child first. You will not loose focus, you will not be deterred. You have a mission- to obtain an appropriate education for your child. I believe in you! I know you can do this! All it takes is to follow-up and follow through!

You have an IEP…. Now What?

The IEP meeting is over and months of planning, meetings, doctor’s appointments, e-mails, and phone calls have culminated into this one moment; helping your child receive an individualized education plan. It’s a great deal to take in and process. IEP meetings are long and filled with overwhelming procedures. However, having an IEP is a step in the right direction! Many families think, I have an IEP and now everything will be better. It’s NOT MAGIC! It is a start on a journey! The accommodations, interventions, and modifications your child needs are now in writing in a legal document. Here are 5 things you need to do to stay on course:

1. Create a file or binder organizing all your paperwork. It will be important to keep track of everything that happens in an IEP meeting and being organized is the first step.

2. Understand whenever you contact the school about your child or their plan you need to document it. Write down the date, who you talk with, and the method of communication. Also, include the topic of conversation. It is best to always contact teachers or administrators in writing. If problems arise, you have a well-established record of your attempts to communicate. From here on out the best policy is document, document, document.

3. E-mail all your child’s teachers. Introduce yourself, be friendly and welcome them to the team. This is your first line of defense if your child is not meeting their goals. Teachers will keep you informed, but you may have to reach out on a consistent basis to stay that way.

4. Ask the school what specific strategies they are using. Keep an open mind of things you might be able to implement at home. If you have specific things you are doing that work already, be sure to share those with your child’s teacher.

5. Understand your rights. Let me say that again, “UNDERSTAND YOUR RIGHTS!” Some of the most basic ones are important to know. You have the right to call an IEP meeting at anytime to review your child’s progress or make changes. You have the right to get them re-evaluated once a year if you like. You have the right to put things in writing. You have rights! Know them and use them!

The IEP process is a journey. It changes depending on whose involved, how your child is progressing, and planning for what is next. You know your child best! I am always available for an overview or advice. 605-431-3318

Plan for next school year? Already? YES!

Can you believe it is already February? For many there is only 3-4 months of school left! In the scheme of things that time will fly by quickly. Now is the time to ask questions and start planning for next school year. Waiting until May stresses out staff and makes it more difficult to accomplish successful planning. Here are some questions I ask families as a check-in for how things are going:

What path is your child on with their current plan?
Are they making progress? How do you know?
Does your child need outside therapies? OT? Speech? Behavioral?
How will they continue to work on their goals over the summer? Do they need ESY?
What suggestions have teachers made to help your child make progress? Are they effective? Can you do them at home? Have the suggestions you made been implemented or tried?
Was your parent teacher conference specific and data driven or was it vague? (Vague comments are always a red flag for me!)

For High School students, I would ask all the above questions with a few adjustments. In high school, the goal is to launch functioning, well rounded young adults. IEP’s often reflect these functional skills. Parents need to be aware and diligent in this phase of development. When working with families, I will often ask:

How many credits do they have? What classes can you choose from to suit their needs?
Can you spread out the more difficult classes over time, so your child is not overwhelmed?
Have they taken driver’s ed? Are they learning functional skills to prepare them for work?
Are their work experience classes or mentoring programs they could try?
Is there a study skills class to help them with time management?
Does your child need ESY? (extended school year services)
Is your child turning 18 soon? Do you need consider guardianship or power of attorney?
What is their plan for post high school? Are you taking the appropriate steps to make that happen?

This is a long list of questions that, once answered, can help shape your child’s future for the better. Call an IEP meeting, discuss these questions, and plan accordingly. The sooner the better! As an advocate I can help you fine tune these to meet the individual needs of your child. 605-431-3318.

New Year! Fresh Start! Handling it all like a Pro!

Some basic things happen when I work with families who have had an IEP in place for years. No one knows where all their paperwork is, no one knows their child’s goals or accommodations from memory, no one understands present levels of achievement, and no one knows their rights. I get it! It is an overwhelming system that expects you to be an expert while still managing everything your child needs. Below are simple things to tackle and can make your 2021 IEP better for your child.

1. Organize! Find all your paperwork, get a binder, and put it all together by year. I also suggest using a tracking sheet of requests you made, the date and to whom you made them, and if they were honored.

2. Keep a quick guide of all your child’s IEP goals. ALL OF THEM. Past and present. Note if they have been met or not. Even if the goal was from years ago, you can revisit it if you believe it has not been met.

3. The goals are driven by your child’s present levels of achievement. This is an EXTREMELY IMPORTANT section of the IEP. It drives the goals we mentioned above. Think of this section as the proof of what your child’s needs and strengths are. Sometimes, in some schools these areas are neglected or worse…exaggerated. For example, I have one client whose child’s present levels of performance said they could read at a level Z. This includes books like “Of Mice and Men” and “The Outsiders”. I tell you this child could barely read directions on a worksheet let alone a level Z. We asked for proof that these types of books could be read fluently with full comprehension and discussion of deeper symbolic meanings. You can imagine the answer. Fortunately, this was quickly changed to reflect how the child was truly reading which led to stronger reading goals.

4. You are given procedural safeguards. Read them. (If you don’t want to read them, hire me. I’ve read them and know them inside and out.) These safeguards are there to inform, to build trust, and to help you understand you are an equal member of the team. They help your child get what they need to succeed.

4 easy steps to get your new year (as a parent of a child who receives special education services) off to a strong start! I am always available for a quick chat, to offer insight, or to simply reassure you. Give me a call to review any or all of these simple tasks! 605-431-3318

Going into the Holidays…

Looking back at the last 6 months I have been continually impressed on how families are pushing through the pandemic. Everywhere I look plates are full and life has quickly become this insane balancing act. Now more than ever we need to take a deep breath and take a step back. Its’ time to take stock of what we have accomplished and what we can control in the hectic holiday weeks ahead. Family from out of town might be visiting. You might be traveling. School will be on break. We may quickly find this lack of consistency has ourselves and our kids spinning.

Now this may not be the most professional post, but I am hoping to bring some perspective. Here is a truth, teachers have known for years; no matter the age or abilities of our children, despite the pandemic, ALL kids lose their minds during the holidays. Yes, ALL OF THEM! ALL children are over excited. ALL of them have a hard time focusing. ALL children are experiencing sensory overload. It is like they all turn into little holiday monsters who cannot self-regulate. I hope this little dose of reality brings you comfort. This common thread of stress, inconsistent schedules, and overall holiday chaos gives me pause. We could all use some tips surviving the holidays with a smile and sense of peace.

Here are some practical steps we can implement to keep the peace.

Step 1: Identify your comfort zone. Be honest about who you want to spend your time with. Think about how you want your family to spend their time. What makes you feel comfortable? What will make your child feel comfortable? Who makes you laugh, smile, and feel completely accepted and loved? If there is a situation or a person or even a place that will disturb that peace, realize it is ok to skip the event, cancel plans, and just claim some space. Take care of yourself. Take care of your family.

Step 2: Slowly introduce sensory input. It seems in our house Christmas goes up in one weekend. Everything! Lights, tree, decorations, cookies, presents… AHHH!!! It is A LOT! And like a crazy person I do it every year! Why do we do this to ourselves? All children could benefit from the slow introduction of things. Just because the tree is up does not mean it needs to be decorated the same day. Nor does it have to have freshly wrapped presents underneath it, ASAP. Preparing your child for the changes to their environment in stages can lower anxiety and mitigate sensory concerns.

Step 3: Try to keep a schedule/routine: I am always so proud of families who assert their need to maintain a schedule. For many it keeps their children calm, stable, and it helps mitigated melt downs. I cannot stress enough how important routine is for ALL children. Research shows consistent routines help children feel safe and secure.

Step 4: Practice “front loading”: This is an educational term and a strategy that works wonders. It is basically predicting what will happen for your child. Again, it is a strategy that can help ALL children.

For loud noises try saying, “When we get there the music and people
might be loud. You can use your headphones to help you block out

For social concerns try saying, “There is going to be lots of
people there wanting to talk and visit with you. It’s ok to take
breaks and come find me if you get overwhelmed.”

For high energy try saying, “I can see you are excited. When we get
there, let’s talk with the host about boundaries. What is ok to
play with? What is ok to do?”

Remember, what may seem completely typical to us can overload children’s senses and overwhelm their emotions. Let’s prepare them for scenarios that could be triggers.

Step 5: Give family members insight on your child: Sometime people are not sure how interact with a child with Autism or Downs or ADHD. Email, call, or text family members things you know that work. Give them the heads up on your child’s triggers, aversions, or sensory needs. I know I appreciate knowing! I go out of my way to meet the needs that friends and family have requested. I want my home to be a safe place for any child.

Step 6: Identify a helper: Oh Momma’s! We put too much pressure on ourselves. Dads, I don’t mean to leave you out, but when it comes to tough moments, us Momma’s bear the brunt. We are the ones processing emotions with our kids, doing the front loading, helping with the sensory issues, and trying the impossible task of planning and preparing for the unknown. It is stressful! For those of you who need to hear this, “It’s ok to need to tap out every once in a while”. Find a person who understands your child, who your child views as safe, and create a plan for help. I love being that person to my girlfriends. I love stepping up and offering them a moment of respite because I understand how desperately it is needed.

Step 7: Be kind to yourself: Repeat after me… I will not compare my children with others. I will not put my children in obligatory situations that cause them to be upset. I will unplug from social media and realize that the pictures I see are just that…pictures, just a snapshot, not a whole life. I will be true to myself, my family, and the needs of my children. That’s it! Nothing else matters in the scheme of things.

With all my well-wishes… find your balance, maintain your peace, give yourself some grace and have a VERY Merry Christmas!

Getting Personal

Today I am compelled to write about my daughter. This is not from an advocate, this is from me, the Momma of a child with Dyslexia. The Momma who gets frustrated her daughter is in third grade and cannot spell basic site words. The Momma whose child reads an entire grade level behind. The Momma who is trained in all things education, advocacy, special education, and uses the Barton Method with fidelity. The Momma whose heart still breaks because of the mountain my daughter has to climb when it comes to literacy.

In the beginning, my “M” started off great with reading. I was so proud of her bringing home her little level A books and reading every night in Kindergarten. She made progress and was moving through the standards guided reading levels. I never suspected a thing. I was confident she would make gains and learn to read and write. Then, in second grade, something changed. It was like she just got stuck. It took longer and longer to move to the next level. Words confused her. She guessed all the time when reading and could not spell. She avoided writing and reading. She would find ways to get me or the computer to read it for her. She would send video and audio responses instead of typing them. She was a pro at avoidance strategies!

I know it was not her teacher. She had the most amazing teacher. A woman who is an expert in her field. This teacher knows literacy inside and out. I have the utmost respect for her ability as an educator and her opinion. If this teacher could not get my daughter to make progress, I knew something was up. She moved to third grade and these problems persisted (even with another excellent teacher). Yet here I was, a trained advocate and a trained teacher questioning my own insight. I am someone who knows about pedagogy, methodology, and child development. I found myself wondering, “Is there something wrong? Is she not paying attention? Is she not working hard enough? Did I not read enough to her? Did I not make her read enough? Was she not in a literacy rich environment?” I went through all those questions and self-doubt that I warn parents about. Everything I knew about Dyslexia went out the window. Everything I knew about teaching and learning, forgotten. I just could not fathom that my child, the child of an expert, was struggling. I was not trusting my instincts that she was struggling because of Dyslexia. I knew it in my core and could not admit it. I am ashamed of this fact.

My thought process was completely skewed. Yes, my daughter had reversals of letters, but that is not the only indicator of Dyslexia, it could just be a developmental thing. So, I dismissed it. Yes, my daughter mixed up letters when she wrote words. Again, it could be developmental. Her spelling? Atrocious! Her reading fluency? Choppy! Her ability to decode words? She guessed! I had to take a hard look at all of these pieces of evidence. I could not blame her teachers, they were wonderful. I could not blame myself, although I tried. I could not blame her, unfortunately I tried this too. It boiled down to understanding this was all beyond her control because she lacked the tools she needed.

We started the Barton method in May. This was not easy. She did not want Momma to see how she had been coping, compensating, and covering. It was eye opening. Her struggle was far worse than I had thought. One lesson could take three, 45-minute sessions for her to process. Sometimes, I had to go back and re-teach lessons. She needed explicit, repetitive, multi-sensory instruction. It was a whole new way of looking at literacy and it was a major shift for her. This philosophy contradicted everything she had been taught about Reading and Writing. Now on level 4, I still remind her not to guess and to use her knowledge of language and letter sounds to decode a word.

I wish educators would understand, this is such a long road. It takes patience, determination, and strength to do what you know your child needs. I wish educators would understand this is not made up, not an excuse, and that parents of children with Dyslexia are not crazy. I wish they would not be so dismissive. I wish they knew that certain methods of teaching reading will do more damage than good. A multi-sensory method will serve my child far better. Reading and writing is not one size fits all and being trained in multiple methods will benefit students. I wish educators would do an in-depth study on Dyslexia to understand it better. I wish they would understand the years I have spent studying Dyslexia, working with students who have Dyslexia, and advocating for them; then maybe they would see the validity to the discussion. I wish they could see how using an inappropriate method severely affects children with Dyslexia. It makes them hide who they are. It makes them pretend because they think they are dumb.

My daughter is smart and spunky. She is creative and funny. She is so much more than her struggle, her guided reading level, or her poor spelling. She is full of beautiful ideas that are difficult for her to express through written language. Last year, I had a little girl who would never read signs wherever we went. This summer, at Reptile Gardens, she read every sign and piece of information we passed. I almost cried. I had a girl who would not write thank you cards because she could not spell all the wonderful things she wanted to say. Now, she makes cards for fun. I had a girl who would never pick up a book and read to herself. (She preferred catalogues because of the pictures.) Now, she will choose a book to read because she wants to. She was bored this weekend and uttered the words,” I guess I’ll read a book.” What? I love that!
It has taken us 7 months to move 4 levels in Barton. That is unusually long. This just speaks to how much time we needed to understand basic sounds. She processes slowly and we only work on it a few times a week because it is exhausting for her. She still has struggles. She still cannot spell “people”, but we are working on it. She can, however, understand digraphs, blends, long and short vowels, and a myriad of other things she could not do 4 months ago. This is the best decision I have ever made for her. I am giving Barton time to fill the holes left by guided reading and then will likely pursue a 504 plan.

It is sad I do not trust the public schools across the state of South Dakota to handle Dyslexia appropriately. (It is not their fault; they lack training and understand of this complex disability.) She does need specialized instruction from the school, and I am fortunate to have the training to provide that for her. Most parents do not. She will also need accommodations. She may need audio books or verbal responses on tests. Her work will need to be looked at for its ideas instead of its spelling. She needs things that can reveal her true intelligence and help everyone see her beyond Dyslexia.

I look forward to the day when she can read and write confidently. I know Dyslexia will always be an issue for her. I am thankful I can give her the tools she needs to make progress and find success. I am thankful for my training and understanding of this topic. I am thankful for this platform to tell my daughter’s story. I hope this reaches another family struggling, another family with questions, another family who does not know what to do and needs help. I am here. The Dyslexia community is here. We can help. Thank you for reading.

Hey Parents….listen up!

Hey Parents, did you know how you approach an IEP meeting has a serious impact on its outcome? What kind of energy are you bringing to the table? Are you biased? Do you have negative past experiences? Do you feel fear? embarrassment? anger? Do you just want to cry? I think I have worked with families that experience all these emotions. This is what I call “educational baggage” and trust me, we all have it. It all stems from what school was like for us, how we learned, and how we process the hopes and dreams we have for our children. I have had parents call me in rage, in tears, and in utter confusion. I listen, understanding this all comes from the love you have for your children, knowing we must work through them to be an effective team.

Part of my job is to help you understand these feelings and determine if they are useful to our goal. Yes, parents cry at IEP meetings. It happens all the time, but I can tell you it does nothing to help your child. I know that is hard to hear but it is true. Teams see people cry all the time and it is not productive. However, taking those emotions and turning them into an impact statement or actionable goals is far more powerful. This can help the team better understand you, your family, and your child.

If I am to stand up for your child to the best of my abilities, I need to understand every part of your child’s history, including family dynamic. I have to understand your experiences with school and your child’s experiences. This helps me paint a more accurate picture of your child. We are looking at the WHOLE child, not just the one at school. For example, some children work all day to hold it together, to keep their behavior and emotions in check and then blow up at home. This is important information for the school to know. The team can work to help your child process during the day to lessen the reactions at home. Hiding your home life and experiences is a detriment to creating an effective plan.

To make a strong plan, I also try to see things from the perspective of the district. This can be confusing to families. Yes, I am there to represent your child, but I am also there to help you understand what fights are worth fighting. I have relationships with the people working with your children. I know when something we might be asking for is not possible. (We can still ask for it, but I will tell you it’s not likely as we plan.) Often, the two parties in IEP meetings see things very differently. These different perspectives can cloud judgement and decision making on both sides. This is often the case when discussing something like methodology. I often push for Orton Gillingham to be used for a child with Dyslexia. The district disagrees claiming their methods, training, and systems are enough to meet the needs of the child.
Understanding this perspective helps us shape the conversation.

Remember, I am not a “hired gun”. I do my best to stay unbiased and focus on the child’s needs. What is in the best interest of the child? What do they absolutely need to succeed in school? Are our requests reasonable? Are we placing too much responsibility on the school? Are we not considering our own roles and responsibilities? I would be failing as an advocate who claims to represent the whole child if we did not look at ALL the angles.

In conclusion, to make the most of my services, it is important share details about your child and family life. It will be helpful to work through emotions that can hinder progress at a meeting. We also may need to answer some hard questions. We will be prepared, calm, in control, and keeping the focus on your child’s needs once we do. In the end, it will all be worth it.

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers!

I posted an “ask me anything” challenge on Facebook and you did not disappoint. I am always available and can be contacted through my website or Facebook. Here is what I received:

How do you get a 504 plan?
A 504 plan is all about access. It guarantees equal access to an education. Think of it as leveling the playing field. So, if a child has ADHD, Dyslexia, Anxiety, Diabetes, ect… the question becomes what do they need to access their education? What kind of accommodations will help them succeed? It is a disability that affects a major life activity. All you need to do is write a letter to the school (teacher and principal) and request a 504 plan. If they deny you, call me! It’s the equivalent of denying someone their civil right to an education. Remember, Grades are not an indicator of a disability. The parent/educator guide to 504, provided by the federal government, clearly states students may still need equal access to the general curriculum even if they have good grades.

How do you get an IEP?
This differs greatly from a 504. You don’t “get” an IEP. You are found eligible for an individualized education plan. This means your child will receive specialized instruction. They will have annual goals, accommodations, and a clear plan on how they will make progress. The first step is putting a request into writing that you suspect your child has a disability. This includes social emotional needs, academics, attention, and many others. There are 13 categories under which your child could qualify. Once you have written a letter stating the specifics of what kind of disability you suspect, the school will start the evaluation process. They will then hold an eligibility meeting to determine if your child has qualified. Then there will be the IEP meeting to develop the plan. Remember, your meaningful participation is guaranteed throughout the entire process. If you are just sitting across everyone at a table and not contributing, you may need to call an advocate to help you. It should never be a situation where you just sit, listen, and sign. Contribute! You know your child best!

What does an advocate cost?
We charge $75.00 per hour. However, we let you dictate how in depth we get. Some families opt for a quick 2-hour review. Other families feel better knowing we are with you every step of the way. If it is an initial IEP and evaluation, you can expect we will spend more time with you. We want to make sure you understand the process, the implications of testing results, and that we have a clear understanding of what you want for your child. If an IEP is already in place the time will consist of reviewing the plan, meeting with you to get your input, and attending the IEP meeting. We document concerns, communicate with the IEP team, and do our best to be the voice of your child.

Are IEP meetings longer when you are involved?
Absolutely! This is a good thing. You do not want to be rushed when it comes to your child’s educational needs. You want to have a complete understanding of what your child is learning and how they are learning. This takes time! Under IDEA, you are guaranteed meaningful participation. I believe “meaningful” means allowing more time to ask questions and sharing your ideas and knowledge. There are no time requirements for IEP meetings listed in IDEA. Of course, we want to be respectful of the school’s time but if you need another meeting to guarantee that meaningful participation, then so be it.

Can’t you just give me some quick advice?
We could, but each child is unique, and each plan is individualized. What works for one child may not work for another. That is why it is so important to see the evaluation results, input from teachers, your input, and their current plan. I need to have a clear picture of the child including strengths, weaknesses, and learning style. Many times, I will even ask to meet with your child to get their take on school.

Does having an advocate make the IEP team angry?
Sometimes. Unfortunately, advocacy has gotten the reputation of being adversarial. Too many, untrained advocates are quick to threaten lawsuits, state complaints, or due process. I will exhaust every effort before recommending any of these steps. I will negotiate, compromise, ask questions, and come up with creative solutions.
Some teams also take it is a sign that we do not trust them. This is not the case at all! I know teams are overworked and have large caseloads. I know they are bound by funding, staffing, and time constraints. I am not. I am free to look at the plan for the possibilities of what it can be and how it can help the child. It’s exciting to see the possibilities! I like to keep the focus on the child and create a plan that is unique and individualized to meet their needs. I find, once the meeting gets going, the team realizes I am not there to tear anyone down, I am not there to judge, I am not there to threaten, I am simply there to help families understand the process. I am there to ask for what we believe the child needs to succeed in school. I am there so families do not feel so alone and isolated. I am there to represent the interests of the child. I even make it a point to smile, make small talk, and try to break the ice. It is important to build trust and build relationships with people. I would be a terrible advocate if my goal were to fight and argue in every meeting. How would that help the child? How would I build any kind of mutual respect with the team?

How do you handle conflict?
Conflict is going to happen. It is a fact. However, conflict does not mean I become unprofessional. Conflict is simply a disagreement and adults have disagreements all the time. I do my best to stay calm, polite, and respectful. It is not personal. The school represents one perspective and I represent another. I stay objective, share my knowledge why I think my request is appropriate. Sometimes the team agrees, sometimes they do not. That is ok. I will advise you accordingly. I might say to let a request go; we have a good plan. I might say to enact your procedural safeguards and contact a lawyer. It depends on the child and the request. (In two years of advocacy I have only referred a family to a lawyer once. That shows negotiation can work!)

Do you only work in Rapid City?
I work all over the state of South Dakota thanks to technology. I can zoom into any meeting in any location. I can email you what you need to self-advocate. I can email or call schools. There is a great deal I can do even though I may be hours away from you. However, I do not work in other states. Although IDEA is federal law, state requirements vary. I am only familiar with the laws, policies, and procedures of the state of South Dakota and IDEA. I am not a lawyer, I am not a psychologist, I can only advise you based on my training through the Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), my experiences as a teacher, and my history in advocacy.

Back to school plan

Hello! Many districts are already back in school and some are starting next week. This is the time to get yourself organized. Here are a few tips that can help make this year run smoother in all the chaos with covid.

1. Document anything you have noticed with your child being home for such a long period of time. Think about: What changes did you see? What went well? What was not working for them? Did you notice any new triggers? Have you noticed any avoidance behaviors? Did you notice any new strengths? Did they start any new medication, therapies, or activities?

2. Talk with your child about their up and coming school year. Ask them: What do you want your teachers to know about you? How do you think you learn best? What would you like to see more of? How can we support you as a team? How can we help you find success this year?

3. Set goals with your child. Create a small, short-term goal to help them get through the beginning of the year. This can be weekly, monthly, or by semester. These goals can be academic, social, emotional, or something personal. Help them devise a plan to achieve them. We are setting our children up for success, so make sure it is attainable.

4. Review last years paperwork. Did they make progress on their IEP goals? If not, why? How is that going to be addressed this school year? How is the 504 going to be implemented if we move to full online learning? How do behavior plans need to be adjusted to reflect the different models of learning? (This is the bulk of what advocates do, there are a multitude of questions you have the right to ask. You also have the right to receive a detailed answer.)

5. Contact the school in writing. I cannot stress this enough! All contact must be in writing, especially when you are making a request that will help your child obtain the free and public education they are entitled to under federal law. Of course in this letter, be friendly and welcoming; set the “team” like attitude. Share the information you collected in steps 1-3 and the questions you formed in step 4. This will not only start a strong paper trail in case problems arise but it will also make sure everyone is on the same page for what we want the school year to hold for your child.

If any of this seems overwhelming, hiring an advocate can help. We can spend a short amount of time looking over your paperwork and offering insight into what all those evaluations, plans, and goals actually mean. We can take all of this information and craft a letter for you. We can simply listen to your insights, frustrations, fears, and offer comfort and an ally. We hope all of this information helps you start the school year off in confidence!


Hello families and welcome to Inspire Educations blog! Here you will find tips and suggestions about ensuring your child is receiving an appropriate education. We are so excited to help guide your child’s journey! If you have ever have any questions feel free to e-mail us at or call at (605)431-3318

Here’s to 2024!

I am so excited for 2024! I am looking forward to being positive, proactive, and purposeful in all I say and do! As I enter into another year of advocacy, I love that I collect great stories to share with other teams about collaboration and how our success rate will skyrocket if we all work together. Here is a sample of the AMAZING things I heard in IEP meetings in 2023:

I just finished a class in Morphology, and I am so excited to start incorporating what I learned into your child’s daily learning.

I think we need to increase service hours on their IEP. I am just not seeing enough progress. 30 minutes three times a week could be increased to 30 minutes every day. This will reinforce all our new strategies daily.

I wanted to share the 6 weeks of data I collected. Here it is in bar graph form based on subject, time of day, structure of learning, and level of support. I think we can see some clear patterns of what is working and what we might need to change to keep them moving in a positive direction. (This is seriously my favorite school to work with. They could teach a master class in professionalism.)

Let’s meet again in 6 weeks to review the data and continue to make changes to meet their individual needs.

I am seeing some sensory needs, let’s add a full OT evaluation.

To the parents: Have you been getting my weekly emails of positive things and improvements I noticed in your child? I hope you are enjoying the funny stories I share.

I notice an FBA has never been done. I think we should do one to get some insight into these behaviors so we can start intervening appropriately.

Your child is not responding to this curriculum based on our data. Here is what the district has available to try but we would also like your suggestions of different curriculum for us to consider as a team.

If your child needs it, we will find a way to provide it, please do not worry about it, a scarcity mindset it detrimental to their plan.

I would welcome some training from your ABA therapist. I think it would help everyone.

Would you be willing to meet with your child’s para to give them insight on what works at home?

This child can absolutely graduate. Let’s develop a plan to make that happen.

I see your child is struggling with morning transition. I am here at 7:30. They can come in and sit with me and “warm-up” to their day whenever they need to.

Jackie, what are your thoughts? (No one ever asks the advocate to speak and share their opinion. I share them anyway, but it is wonderful when they do!)

I truly value collaboration. I love it when like minded individuals come together and start offering ideas and solutions based on facts, research, training, input from others, and experience. I love it when we all set our intention to do whatever it takes to help a child succeed. I love it when I can defer to someone who is an expert in a certain field, and I can learn from them. I love it when we are all excited about a plan and are willing to execute it with fidelity. Yes, education can be this good. I have experienced it. I want to keep this kind of mindset and momentum going. Join me! Here is to 2024!

Things heard at IEP meetings 2023

I hear atrocious, law breaking comments at many IEP meetings. I thought it might open some eyes if I took those comments and transferred them to a different profession. Imagine hearing the following from your pediatrician when your child is sick:

I know we had an appointment, but this is running long, and I have to go. Let’s reschedule.

I know your child is sick, but we do not have the staffing or the funding to treat them.

There is nothing wrong with your child because we just don’t see these symptoms when he is in the office.

Your child does have a cough but you only mentioned the sneeze so we cannot treat the cough.

We don’t need to test her for the flu because it’s obvious she does not have that.

I don’t think we will need another appointment; no follow-up is needed based on the decisions we make today.

I didn’t collect any data on your child’s height, weight, or development but I know what I am doing will work because I am a well-trained doctor.

I have never helped a child with a rare disease before, but I have multiple degrees in medicine, so I am confident I know what I am doing. A specialist in this area is not needed.

We cannot get caught up in thinking about what will happen in the future, I don’t have a crystal ball so I can only treat your child based on today, I cannot worry about tomorrow.

I cannot control what other doctors or nurses will say or do so I do not want to put that in your child’s medical record.

I don’t want to put too much detail in their medical record because that is too much information and limits what future doctors can do.

You have paid a great deal of money to hear you were right about your child’s illness, but I just don’t agree with these test results.

If you ask me to treat your child I will quit, and you can find another doctor.

Your child is seeing many doctors and is on many medications I better call child protective services or the police because it’s clear these doctors and these meds are not “fixing” them.

Translated into what I REALLY heard at IEP meeting this year:

I know we scheduled this meeting, but it is running long, and my contract hours are done in about 5 minutes. I will have to leave. Let’s reschedule.

I know your child has Autism, but we do not have the staffing or funding to support them.

There is nothing wrong with your child because we do not see these symptoms at school.

Your child does struggle with Writing but you only mentioned Reading so we cannot help her with Writing.

We don’t need to test her for Dyslexia because it is obvious she does not have Dyslexia.

I don’t think we will need another IEP meeting this year, no follow-up will be needed based on the decisions we make today.

I didn’t collect any data on your child’s behavior, reading progress, ect… but I know what I am doing will work because I am a well-trained teacher.

I have never helped a child with such a rare disability before, but I have an advanced degree in education, so I am confident I know what I am doing. A specialist in this particular disability is not needed.

We cannot get caught up in thinking about what will happen in the future, I don’t have a crystal ball so I can only teach your child based on today, I cannot worry about tomorrow.

I cannot control what other teachers or paras will say or do so I do not want to put that in your child’s IEP.

I don’t want to put too much detail in their IEP because that is too much information and limits what future teachers can do.

You have paid a great deal of money to hear you were right about your child’s disability, but I just don’t agree with these evaluations.

If you ask me to use short term objectives, I will quit, and your child can find another case manager.

Your child is seeing many teachers and specialists and is on many medications I better call child protective services or the police because it’s clear these teachers, specialists, and these meds are not “fixing” them.

The first half of this school year has been tough. This is just a sampling from my notes. There are many more terrible, unprofessional comments to share. Teams are less willing to collaborate and doubling down on their “my way or the highway” attitude. I have filed more state complaints and OCR complaints in the last 3 months than I have in the last two years. (BTW, all are being investigated and so far each one has come back finding in FAVOR of the families.) This post is to show what families with disabilities often face and feel they have no right to share because they actually DO support public education and teachers just as I do. I know staff is underpaid, undervalued, and have too much on their plates but so am I and I don’t take it out on other people, let alone children. We need to do better, have some empathy for the children and families, and be open to possibilities that we may not have all the answers. We need to invest in public education NOW! We need more support staff, better pay, better training, and be open to the fact that people on the outside are trying to help.

Tomorrow I will share the complete opposite, the WONDERFUL and RARE people I have worked with at school.