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Georgia Special Education Law Blog

Preparing for IEP Meetings: Managing Expectations

on Fri, 06/01/2012 - 14:42

Your child’s IEP is very important because it is the plan the school will follow in educating your child for the next school year. Go to the IEP meeting with a purpose – to see that good goals are included in the IEP and services are provided that help make it likely that the goals will be achieved. But the school district is not required to do everything any parent asks be done. Therefore, it is very important to prepare for the IEP ahead of time, thinking about what you want to ask for and how you will persuade the school district that it is legally obligated to provide the services you are suggesting.

Persuasion is extremely important, because the school district is only required to make a plan that has a decent chance of providing educational benefit, even if that does not actually educate your child. As the federal appeals court for Georgia explained*, school districts are only obligated to provide a basic floor of opportunity. If you can’t persuade the school district, you will have a very difficult time forcing the district to increase what it is doing, given the low legal standard the district must meet.
In short, you must manage your expectations. You are your child’s champion, but you are also the world’s greatest expert on your child. You must be honest with yourself in order to figure out what you (as champion) want for your child and what you (as expert) know your child needs. Once you have focused on your expertise, you can think effectively about how to explain your reasoning to the school officials.
Again, you must be brutally honest with yourself about whether a desire for your child is a want or a need.  It would be nice if every child with special needs received a one-on-one tutor in every subject, but this simply isn’t possible.  School district officials are only human – if they decide (rightly or wrongly) that your first request is unreasonable, that will affect how they view your later, smaller requests.
*JSK v. Hendry County Sch. Bd., 941 F.2d 1563 (11th Cir. 1991)

Interesting Mini-Conference - May 7, 2012

on Mon, 05/07/2012 - 14:05

Autism Speaks and the Marcus Autism Center sponsored a really interesting event this past Saturday that I had the pleasure to attend.  Autism researchers from the CDC, and the Marcus Center presented their very imformative results.

Dr. Warren Jones from the Marcus Center discussed his research using eye-tracking of young children to differentiate autistic from non-autistic children.  He showed the babies a video and used sophisticated technology to determine where in the video the baby was looking at.  He discovered that, starting at about nine months of age, typically developing children focused on social cues, while the children later diagnosed as autistic were looking at movement and sound generally.  In other words, the typically developing children were watching eyes, while autistic children were watching the mouth.  The differences were striking and if the technology could be deployed in pediatrician's offices, they could act as a screener for children so that beneficial early interventions could be applied earlier.  Dr. Jones' group is running more research trials for babies and is hoping to run studies on older children.  Sign up on the Marcus Center website.

The CDC discussed prelimiary data from the SEED program, which is a huge study looking into the prevelance of autism in society.  The presenter mentioned that a second stage for SEED is starting.  If you have you children and are interested in participating, check them out.  Other presenters from the Marcus Institute talked about the difference between screeners for autism, which only raise concerns, and diagnostic evaluations, that give a diagnosis.  Just because a screener suggests autism does not mean that your child has autism.  

Some discussion of importan issues in the IEP were also discussed.  One speaker discussed the importance of planning for transition out of school, after graduation.  The IDEA recognizes this important issue and as graduation approaches, IEPs must contain planning for life after graduation, including lifeskills training as appropriate.  Early is better, because the more training, the more prepared your child will be for life after public schooling.

Another speaker discussed the pending change to the definition of autism in the DSM-V.  I think my colleague Jennifer Laviano covered the issue very well.  As she noted, autism is defined in the IDEA without reference to the DSM-V.  If your child meets that definition, your child is eligible for services regardless of the definition in the DSM.  And once a child is eligible for services, the school district is obligated to create an individualized plan that deals with a child's specific needs - no matter what eligibility category led to eligibility for services.

Upcoming Presentation - April 30, 2012

on Mon, 04/30/2012 - 20:00

As I have mentioned, the Georgia Asperger's Organization has invited me to present "Special Needs, the Education System, and the Law," an overview of the IEP process and special education law with tips for getting the best IEP for your child.  The presentation will be at 7 pm at the Barrow Regional Medical Center on 316 N. Broad St., Winder, GA 30680.  Go to the third floor and look for the signs.  All are welcome.

Meeting Lois Curtis - April 27, 2012

on Fri, 04/27/2012 - 13:35

I had the pleasure of meeting Lois Curtis last night.  Lois was one of two plaintiffs in Olmstead v. L.C., the 1999 Supreme Court decision holding that people with disabilities were entitled to community placements rather than instutitional placements if they medically qualified.  Georgia argued that the Americans with Disabilities Act was not violated if community placements were denied due to lack of funding, rather than animus to the disabled.  The Supreme Court rejected that position, effectively holding that lack of funding does not justify inappropriate treatment of those with special needs.

Not only is Lois a legal legend, she is also an accomplished artist, showing that every can make valuable and beautiful contributions to our diverse society.


Upcoming Events

Autism Speaks and the Marcus Autism Center are sponsoring an event titled "Autism Spectrum Disorders: Surveillance, Research, and Resources" on Saturday, May 5 from 8 am to noon.  Go to and register by April 27.

I will be presenting "Special Needs, the Education System, and the Law" at the Georgia Asperger's Organization in Barrow County on May 3 at 6:30 pm.

Recent Events - April 20, 2012

on Fri, 04/20/2012 - 13:50

Last night, I attended a wonderful presentation by John Elder Robison at the CDC.  He discussed his life experiences as a person with Asperger's syndrome.  He talked briefly about education, focusing on social skills.  Mr. Robison suggested that the most important social skill to develop was choosability.  In other words, developing sufficient social skills to not push people away - moving from offputting to excentric.  Once someone is not actively driving people away based on social discomfort, one's achievements and special skills can come forward, drawing people in and causing them to include one in social activities.

Upcoming Events

Autism Speaks and the Marcus Autism Center are sponsoring an event titled "Autism Spectrum Disorders: Surveillance, Research, and Resources" on Saturday, May 5 from 8 am to noon.  Go to and register by April 27.

I will be presenting "Special Needs, the Education System, and the Law" at the Georgia Asperger's Organization in Barrow County on May 3 at 6:30 pm.  More information as it becomes available.