Annie McLaughlin, BCBA and education lawyer Alexandra Rosenblatt join Erika to discuss this tricky area in which they specialize and provide some insights on how professionals can help collaborate with school teams and families throughout the IEP process.
- Alexandra and Annie’s background [1:31]
- Annie currently serves as an educational consultant or IEP advocate.
- She helps families navigate the IEP process and provides them with professional opinions on anything related to the IEP and its implementation.
- She is also a special educator and a behavior analyst who worked in clinics and home settings.
- If a client or a parent is looking to improve the IEP and to make it more effective, Alexandra may refer them to an educational consultant.
- She ended up working with Annie because she needed experts to go into the school and conduct observations and give her and the parents feedback. She’s also looking for Annie’s expertise to provide recommendations because that’s what she relies upon with her legal work
- Annie is the one that provides the recommendations and Alexandra provides the legal arguments
- Annie currently serves as an educational consultant or IEP advocate.
Is it common for families to have an IEP advocate and/or an education lawyer? [5:20]
- Sometimes people start working with Annie first.
- When things are moving smoothly, teams are very collaborative and are doing wonderfully — they don’t need an attorney.
- But sometimes they get to a point where there’s disagreement for whatever reason. And then the referral would be to an attorney.
- Given her background in behavior analysis, it tends to be around kids that might be having challenging behaviors interfering with their learning or autism or looking at an FBA (Functional Behavior Assessment) as part of the process as well.
- Most families don’t even know that advocates exist until they have a challenge and then connect with other parents.
- Annie’s goal is for families to feel empowered to show up and have their voice heard in a way that is meaningful for them.
- She does a lot of background work with the families before going to meetings — explaining and identifying their values, what they would like to see either in the IEP or in the relationship with the school.
- Alexandra is also a parent, in addition to being an attorney.
- She has a fourth grader with down syndrome.
- When you’re the parent, it just feels very different. The stakes are incredibly high and your ability to problem solve. It’s all about paying attention to the details.
- If you’re stressed, your brain shuts down and it’s hard to focus on the details. And so just having another person there, regardless of who they are, is helpful.
- Frankly, attorney rates are higher, so it only makes sense to bring Alexandra in when it’s not going well.
- 98% of the time when a parent comes to Alexandra, they’re absolutely right that there’s been FAPE violations, but they’re arguing the wrong things.
- Most common scenarios Alexandra and Annie find themselves going into [12:35]
- For Alexandra, it’s often that something isn’t working.
- We need to change. How do we get out of here?
- The majority of the work that she does is getting students into what’s called a non-public special education school.
- It’s one of the most restrictive settings on the least restrictive environment on the LRE page of the IEP that’s saying this child can’t be educated at public schools, either as a result of the failure of the district to provide a free and appropriate public education, which is the legal standard. And/or because that’s simply what they need going forward.
- Annie gets a lot of calls from pre-K in kindergarten parents and then middle school.
- Parents are worried about their child’s safety.
- She gets lots of safety concerns, particularly around bullying or navigating the building, staying in the building and not leaving.
- Parents want to make sure they’re saying the right thing or asking the right questions.
- Annie also gets a lot of calls from families in crisis, particularly around behavior or mental health.
- Like kids that won’t leave their house to go to school, kids who have significant challenging behaviors, etc.
- Usually, Annie goes in and does an observation for multiple reasons, but to look and help the team, are they able to implement?
- Parents are worried about their child’s safety.
- For Alexandra, it’s often that something isn’t working.
- How Annie and Alexandra first meet and how they work together[16:08]
- They were introduced by a friend who knew them both.
- They often text each other during IEP meetings. Asking questions like: Can I do it? What about this? What should we have for this?
- Being a similar age, both being women, both being parents of children with needs, they both look to each other for their expert opinion.
- Annie knows more about the ins and outs of assessments, and things about the curriculum that Alexandra doesn’t know.
- Alexandra ends up having to become an expert in special education, which is not her background. She’s a lawyer, but she had to learn along the way.
- Similarly for Annie, she’s not a lawyer, but she has to learn along the way about what goes into making a legal case and ultimately her client needs to go that route.
- Additional resources for IEP advocates or education lawyers [18:08]
- Annie and Alexandra spend a lot of time learning from each other, or even asking questions around different cases.
- There are times that they look at a case differently. They have to go back and forth about what they think should happen or what the next steps should be.
- General connection is important particularly for advocates that are just starting out.
- Connecting with special ed attorneys and letting them know what you bring to the table and why that’s different or similar to other advocates. Particularly if you are a related service or behavior analyst, what expertise are you showing up with so that they know when to call you.
- Learn as you go.
- Based on what Alexandra has experienced, especially dealing with opposing counsel on cases (cases where there’s an attorney that’s representing the districts) — the more they know about special education, the better they are at their job because they understand what makes a case and what the violations are.
- A lot of time the school-based people haven’t been provided sufficient training for developing an IEP or knowing what to do when they need to discuss the least restrictive environment or whether or not they can meet that child’s needs.
- Each state has certain requirements that parents have to meet, so they have to have procedural safeguards.
- Go on your state department’s education website, they should be freely accessible there.
- Other good resources:
- Annie and Alexandra spend a lot of time learning from each other, or even asking questions around different cases.
- Working with parents requesting something that is not legally required or unreasonable for the circumstances or the school resources [25:51]
- Annie starts with a strong values discussion with parents.
- She spends a decent amount of time hearing them, giving them space to tell the full story.
- During the discussion, she’s looking for their values as they have identified them — whether it’s high academic achievement, inclusion, socially decreased challenging behaviors, fear for the future, etc.
- If something can’t be done, then they need to be talking about why it can’t be and where it can be.
- But in general, Annie starts with making sure they are showing up with a request that it addresses the parent’s concern and is reasonable.
- The leading question that people have for Alexandra is — does she have a case?
- They’re looking for her advice on whether or not something can be done, as opposed to, this is what I want, I want you to do it.
- She’s dealing with, either this is a violation or it’s not. Either they’re legally obligated to do this or they’re not.
- The sad reality is the IDEA has never been fully funded.
- Oftentimes, the parent’s gut is right. They just don’t have the language or they don’t know how to point to the data to support what they’re saying.
- The vast majority of the people sitting at the table from the school district are doing the absolute best they can, but they can’t meet the needs of the child for whatever reason that is.
- The most full meetings that they tend to have are when they’ve got people outside of the school coming to meetings. Because teachers and educators also feel like they’re on an island.
- They’re limited in what they can provide. And so it really is helpful to have someone from the central office who can say, we can provide someone from the central office. Or we can give funding for this to happen. Or we can authorize a one-to-one adult support. Or we have a BCBA at the central level.
- From a consulting perspective, Annie really tries to suggest efficient — not only effective, but super efficient systems changes or requests.
- She uses all of that behavior analysis of response effort in making sure that the teacher’s going to contact reinforcement at a high enough level when they change something so things are truly efficient rather than just effective.
- Annie starts with a strong values discussion with parents.
- What are the expectations of the family when Annie and Alexandra comes in [34:58]
- They talk about what to expect beforehand with the parent when they’re in a meeting.
- Annie always tells everybody that she shows up from a collaborative standpoint.
- They bring the problems up when it’s time to bring the problems up.
- Annie always lets the parents speak up when they want to speak.
- They talk about what to expect beforehand with the parent when they’re in a meeting.
“My job is to make sure that what parents bring up and what they need is addressed, because oftentimes it is just heard rather than addressed.” — Annie McLaughlin
- Oftentimes, the parents let them take the lead. Part of that is because it’s emotional to talk about your own kid.
- By the time they’ve gotten to Annie and Alexandra, they’re already exhausted and they’ve tried on their own and it hasn’t worked.
- Tools and/or strategies that Annie and Alexandra recommends [40:09]
- Valid and comprehensive evaluations.
- Often we’re dealing with bad or absent evaluations. And oftentimes a school hasn’t even thought to do an evaluation, or they haven’t done one in a long time, or they’re so convinced that they know what the child needs.
- What Alexandra recommends to parents is to go out and get outside evaluations.
- Or we need the school system to properly evaluate, or we need to talk to the school system about how this evaluation wasn’t valid or comprehensive, because that’s going to drive a lot of the argument.
- Being super clear on the data that is provided.
- If it’s not a formal evaluation, but it’s a present level or it’s a progress report, make sure that they match.
- Know that you need to ask for the data that is directly related to the skills that are being taught in the IEP.
- Valid and comprehensive evaluations.
- Mediation skills/strategies [42:58]
- The phrase that Alexandra often uses is: “Thank you for all you’ve done, but something isn’t working.”
- There’s some relief in having that frank conversation.
- And so to have an outside person say the data is showing that the child is not making sufficient progress or this isn’t working or the needs exceed what the school is providing is like a release valve in some ways.
- Because oftentimes educators and therapists aren’t getting the support they need.
- Being clear in the message helps with mediation or to come to an agreement on something or at least know that they disagree.
- The parents have their rights to disagree. But oftentimes because disagreement feels so uncomfortable, parents tend to walk out.
- What the law says about prior written notice is it has to include what was suggested — whether it was agreed upon, refused, and the data to support that decision.
- They use the prior written notice to document what the parent requested, the team’s response, the data that they used to support the decision, and the disagreements.
- Documenting disagreement is huge and knowing what your state disagreement options are is really important for families to navigate.
- The phrase that Alexandra often uses is: “Thank you for all you’ve done, but something isn’t working.”
- Annie and Alexandra’s working relationship [48:03]
- They collaborate, but they have their own roles.
- Alexandra would never ask Annie to do something that she doesn’t professionally or ethically agree with. And if Annie disagrees, Alexandra will not ask her to do something different.
- Annie works with school districts and families, so she has to be really clear about conflicts.
- It’s really difficult to advocate when you don’t know the child. That’s why Alexandra ended up recommending Annie to her clients.
- They collaborate, but they have their own roles.
- Success stories [53:11]
- In general, the cases that Annie would say are successful are when the children start to thrive. They feel like they belong, they feel like a valued member of their community and they’re making tremendous progress academically, communication, behaviorally.
- Annie tends to focus on autism, intellectual disabilities, emotional behavior disorders as the categories or multiple disabilities. Those are the cases that she takes.
- Oftentimes Alexandra heard the phrase, “I feel like I have a different child” from parents. They come to her when things have just gotten so bad and when they are finally in the right placement with the appropriate IEP, it feels like they have a different child or the phrase parents use is, “I have my child back”.
Meet Our Guest
Dr. Annie specializes in the integration of contemporary applied behavior analysis with positive behavior supports in order to increase the quality of life and education for individuals with disabilities. Her areas of expertise include data-based educational programs and classrooms, IEPs for students with disabilities, inclusive practices and functional behavior assessments.
Dr. Annie has taught at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Washington (online). Her courses include a focus on children with Autism, Applied Behavior Analysis, Inclusive Practices, and Behavior Management.
Dr. Annie presents at numerous national conferences and has written many publications on multiple topics related to educating students with disabilities and decreasing challenging behaviors.
“Having somebody with you, whether it’s an advocate, an attorney, or a friend, particularly looking at where you are on needing support is really important.” — Annie McLaughlin
Alexandra Rosenblatt represents children and families in the areas of special education, suspension and expulsion and guardianships, bringing with her a special kind of compassion for families facing challenges in their advocacy for their children. Ms. Rosenblatt’s practice is devoted primarily to the representation of children with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 in administrative due process hearings and at the IEP table. Prior to joining the Law Offices of Mark B. Martin, P.A., Ms. Rosenblatt worked at the Public Justice Center as a staff attorney representing workers in class action lawsuits when employers failed to pay minimum wage and overtime. In 2012, Ms. Rosenblatt’s daughter was born with Down syndrome, which changed the trajectory of her life both on a personal and professional level. Since then, she has immersed herself in special education and disability law. Prior to moving to Baltimore, Ms. Rosenblatt practiced employment law in Hartford, Connecticut where she represented employees in high profile employment discrimination and wrongful termination litigation. Ms. Rosenblatt graduated with honors from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 2009. There, she was awarded a Public Interest Law Fellowship; was a Haywood Burns Fellow; and founded the student chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. Ms. Rosenblatt has years of experience representing Spanish-speaking clients.
“We don’t know whether what we’re doing is appropriate or working if we don’t have that measurable baseline data.” — Alexandra Rosenblatt
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Read the Transcript:
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
Welcome to the Behavioral Health Collective Podcast—a community of behavioral health professionals who are passionate about working together across disciplines to improve client outcomes by valuing collaboration, connection, humility, and evidence-based practices in a variety of behavioral health fields.
The goal of the Behavioral Health Collective is to highlight stories of collaboration between practitioners, the work that they’re doing together, and how thoughtful and ethical collaboration between fields can lead to better client outcomes. Thanks for joining me today to dive deeper into stories of professional collaboration.
If you work with school-age learners, chances are you’ve attended an IEP meeting or definitely will at some point in the future. Some behavior analysts, like one of our guests today, specifically advocate for learners throughout the IEP process as their full-time role. If you’ve been in more than a couple IEP meetings, chances are you’ve been in at least one that’s had some tension or contentious issues come up.
Today our guest, Annie McLaughlin, BCBA—and education lawyer, Alexandra Rosenblatt—will discuss this tricky area in which they specialize and provide some insight on how professionals can help collaborate with school teams and families throughout the IEP process.
They’re both parents of neurodiverse learners and share their professional and personal experience of being around the IEP table. This is a powerful conversation as they have a great deal of wisdom and insight for parents, educators, and behavioral health professionals alike.
Good morning, Alexandra and Annie! Thank you so much for joining me today. I’m just so excited to hear more about your perspectives and how you’ve been working together. So thank you for being here.
Thanks for having us.
So, just to get things going, could you describe to me as a lawyer and an IEP advocate a little bit about your respective roles right now, and maybe just a short summary of your professional journey to date.
Sure. So my role mostly right now is I serve as an educational consultant or IEP advocate. And really what I do is help families navigate the IEP process and provide them my professional opinion on anything related to the IEP and its implementation. And so I’ve basically gotten to this route.
I was a special educator, I was a behavior analyst working in clinics and then home settings. And then moved to I got my doctorate along the way and then came to the Baltimore, Maryland area where I was really trying to find a job that fit with having young kids because I had one young child and didn’t wanna do nights and weekends.
So I was looking for a school kind of time job. And really I kept going to IEP meetings to help families and then realize, oh wait, like this is, this really, really lights me up inside to help families navigate the IEP process. Help them understand what schools should be doing, what they, why they might struggle with it, and then come up with a solution really around communication and implementation.
So then I started to get to know the special ed attorneys in the area specifically because, as an advocate you can only go so far. You can give your opinion, right? And then if sometimes, schools might disagree or have trouble implementing, then you know it is helpful to have an attorney who also knows the law and kind of next steps for that as well.
And I think for me, I think sort of the way that I concisely distinguish the difference between what someone like Annie does and what someone like I do is you know, typically if a client or a parent is looking to just improve the IEP, not just improve it, but improve the IEP to make it better to work with the team and collaborate, then I would refer them to an educational consultant, right?
Because they’re obviously, like Annie, their background is in special education, or that’s certainly who I recommend because there isn’t a certification for being an advocate. But specifically an educational consultant is better equipped than I am to develop goals and objectives and to talk about curriculum and back mapping and all of the accom, in terms of the accommodations.
I think generally when we often say that we’re the last resort, is that like when it’s not working or when the team isn’t listening or when something drastic needs to change, they bring me in. And then oftentimes the reason why I end up working with Annie is because then I’m needing experts to either go into the school and conduct observations and give me, and give the parent feedback. And or I’m looking for her expertise to provide recommendations because that’s what I rely upon.
So for me, these cases, they’re a kind of more akin to medical malpractice cases where it’s all about relying upon the experts. And so that’s what I do is, I can make an argument until the cows come home, but I’m not at this, I’m not an expert in it and Annie is. And so she’s the one that provides the recommendations and I provide the legal arguments as to why they should be listening to her.
And sometimes parents hire us to, just go with them and be a more heavy hand with the team. And sometimes that’s appropriate. But I think it really depends on how acrimonious things have become with the team and whether or not they’re just looking for collaboration and input.
Okay. Interesting. So I guess just to understand the context of, you know, the American school system and your rules there. How often, I guess what does that look like when you’re coming in? So you’re saying sometimes it’s acrimonious and other times it’s just more Hey, we need some help. What does that typically look like?
I guess if you could say is there a general, more than 50% of the time they’re hiring one of you first? Are you ever hired together to come in? What does it look like and is it really common for families to have an IEP advocate and or an education lawyer?
Yeah, I would say I, I’d be here curious to hear what Alexandra thinks, but I think it actually goes both ways.
Sometimes people start with me and we’re moving right along and things are very collaborative and teams are doing wonderfully. And then, I’m like, we don’t need an attorney, we’re good. Right? But then sometimes we just get to a point where there’s just disagreement for whatever reason. And then the referral would be to an attorney and there are lots of attorneys in the area.
I like working with Alexandra, there are different people also as well. So it’s not that I send every client to her and then I do think, she also will call me for specific reasons. And given my background in behavior analysis, it tends to be around kids that might be having challenging behaviors interfering with their learning or autism or looking at an FBA – a Functional Behavior Assessment as part of the process as well.
I would say most families don’t even know that advocates exist until they have a challenge and then connect with other parents. And really the parents are saying, you should bring somebody with you. And my goal really when I go with families is that they feel empowered to show up and have their voice heard in a way that is meaningful for them.
And so I really do a lot of background work with the families before we even get to the meetings, just about explaining and identifying their values, what they would like to see either in the IEP or in the relationship with the school. So you know, it, it’s a little bit, I actually think many families don’t have advocates.
They don’t know that advocacy exists or they think because things aren’t really bad, that they don’t need somebody. And I, we’re plenty busy, I promise you, we don’t need the extra business. But honestly, having somebody, I have taken somebody with me to my child’s 504 meeting. So I think having somebody else, like I show up as the mom when I, as a, I’m at my child’s 504, where you just show ’em so much emotion, right?
And so things feel so personal. So I do think having somebody with you, whether it’s an advocate, an attorney, or a friend, particularly looking at where you are on needing support is really important.
Yeah, I would agree with that. I am also a parent, in addition to being an attorney. I have a fourth grader with down syndrome. And even just opening up emails from her team gives me stress in a way that I don’t experience at all with very real, very intense issues with my clients.
So when you’re the parent, it just, it feels very different. That feels like the stakes are so, I they are so incredibly high. And your ability to problem solve. And it’s all about paying attention to the detail. And so if you’re stressed, your brain sort of shuts down and it’s hard to focus on the details. Or it’s hard to tell the team, these people who are caring for your children every day, that they’re not doing what your child needs if there’s so much emotion that goes into that.
And so just having another person there, regardless of who they are, is helpful. Someone to take notes, someone to advocate on your behalf so that you can be the parent and not play all the roles. Not put all the hats on. And so I think definitely, like I would always recommend that someone go in with someone, that a parent go in with an advocate or someone there just because it helps emotionally.
It helps to keep track of what’s been decided, what’s been discussed. And I think part of what happens is, in our society we defer to the schools as the experts. And so that power dynamic is, it starts off being unequal. And it’s really intimidating to walk into a room of 14 people all talking about what your kid can’t do.
That’s just so emotional. So I think in that respect, it’s always good to have someone with you. And then I think in terms of my role, it ends up being, I mean I thought when I went to this field that I would do more of what Annie does, but I think because frankly my rates are higher and people are doing a cost benefit analysis, that it really only for a lot of families. Not all families, but for probably the average family, it really only makes sense to bring me in when it’s just not going well. Or they’re looking for a change of placement and it, that cost benefit analysis is makes sense for them.
Okay, interesting. That’s a really valid point that you both bring up as parents, that your services that you provide are both hard skills but also soft skills too.
And just being that person beside the parent to support and I can see that would be so valuable. And, as someone who has come from the education system, that’s something that, that’s a good reminder for me actually. And maybe for any teachers listening that it can be really intimidating going into a school and we might not see that way, see it that way as a teacher and educator, know, and just thinking, oh, it’s a school meeting, no problem.
But for a parent coming in, that’s so true. Especially if it’s your first child or first one with significant needs and just hearing the negative, that’s hard.
Yeah, I think oftentimes, I would say 98% of the time that a parent comes to me, they’re absolutely right that there’s been FAPE violations, but they’re arguing the wrong things.
They don’t quite understand what to be looking at. And I think that’s partly what Annie and I can do is we speak the language, we know what data to rely upon. So the parent is right, but we like translate it.
Yeah. I can see how that’s such a valuable service, to be able to speak to, to both sides.
Yeah. And if you think about the parent’s learning history, right? So you might be a teacher with all good intentions, calling the parent, texting them, being super transparent, but they’ve had six teachers before you, right? Who maybe one wasn’t, or one, so the learning history of the family for their interaction with this school.
Even if everybody at that table at that particular time is really showing up around collaboration and communication is, I do think there are a lot of players almost always at the table, right? And sometimes there has been issues along the way that the current team almost always is not aware of. And so I think that I also try with that communication to of say, listen, we’re bringing this up because last year there x, y, and z happened.
So we’re just making sure, I know you think it won’t happen, but we need to make sure everybody’s on the same page. So I think a lot of what I do is just also to make sure that everybody knows the history so that we’re not dwelling in the past. But there are reasons that there might be some mistrust or emphasis on communication or emphasis on safety, the discussions at the table.
No. I’m curious, this answer might be different for both of you, but what are some of the most common scenarios you find yourself going into?
Again, I think, a lot of cases I am, since we are the last stop for parents. I think that again, as even though I really wanted to be focusing on being committed to improving the public school system and making it work for parents for me, and so this is different for Annie.
For me, it’s often this isn’t working. We need to change. What, how do we get out of here? And so oftentimes what I’m doing, not always, but oftentimes I would say the majority of the work that I do is getting students into what’s called a non-public special education school.
One of the more restrictive settings on the least restrictive environment on the LRE page of the IEP that’s saying this child can’t be educated at public schools, either as a result of the failure of the district to provide a free and appropriate public education, which is the legal standard. And or because that’s simply what they need going forward.
The public school system doesn’t have what this child needs. And so it’s, that’s oftentimes what I’m doing. So I think that’s probably very different than the majority of what Annie is doing.
Yeah. So I get a lot of calls from pre-K in kindergarten parents and then middle school, whenever that starts.
And a lot of parents wanting to know, just what should be in this document. I don’t even know, help me understand. So I get a lot of, we’re getting ready to go into kindergarten, we’re getting ready to go into middle school, and I’m afraid that, right? So they’re really worried about safety.
I get lots of safety concerns, particularly around bullying or navigating the building, staying in the building and not leaving. So oftentimes parents are calling that with just some, help me understand, or I wanna make sure we’re situated to ask for what the child needs. And it’s kind of, I’ve had a couple parents say, I didn’t know I was not saying the right thing, right?
I didn’t know if I said, can the child have a one-to-one? And the answer is, we don’t do that. And we do it this way, right? Like they’re, that they’re actually getting some of the same pieces or services. It’s just called something different, right? So we get a lot of parents who are just wanting to make sure they’re saying the right thing or asking the right questions.
But then I also do get a lot of calls, unfortunately, on families in crisis, particularly around behavior or mental health. So, kids that won’t leave their house to go to school, kids who have significant challenging behaviors, including, self or others around not being able to access instruction.
So usually I go in and do an observation to multiple reasons, but to look and help the team, are they able to implement? Then they always ask me questions and things like that as well as, do we need to start a process for assessments, changes to the IEP and things like that.
So usually it’s a curiosity of support or unfortunately parents are in crisis related to behavior.
And ours is, we joke is like fourth grade. Or ours is like they’ve tried to make the school work for kindergarten, for first and they start really noticing things at second grade and that’s worse than third grade and then they hit a wall at fourth grade.
That’s a really common age that they end up coming to us.
Okay. Interesting. Now I’m curious about how you, first, I can really see now how your work compliments each other. How did you first meet and were you both on the same case, like a family hired both of you and how did that first happen?
So I think we were introduced by a friend who, like somebody who knew us both and said, you two should actually talk to each other.
Now the comptroller of Maryland.
Yeah. She’s now the comptroller of Maryland, so…
Oh, that’s awesome. Okay.
And do you ever, so it sounds like you, you’ve referred each other, other families to each other. Do you ever just consult with each other? Hey, I’ve got a question on this back and forth. I can see how that would be so powerful to just know someone in a complimentary role.
Yeah, we often text each other during IEP meetings. Can I do that? What about this? What should we have for this? Yeah, I think in part, being a similar age, both being women, both being parents of children with needs, I think we both look to each other for our expert opinion on.
She knows more about the ins and outs of assessments, were things about the curriculum that I don’t know. And so yeah, she’s probably, definitely I look definitely look to the consultants that that we regularly use to just ask questions about things. Because in the end, I end up having to become an expert in special education, which of course, it’s not my background. I’m a lawyer, but I’ve had to learn along the way.
And similarly, I think with someone like Annie. Obviously she’s not a lawyer, but she has to learn along the way about what goes into making a legal case and ultimately her client needs to go that route.
And it tends, we do try to keep it right, like really zoomed out or can you, they said this, does that sound right?
No. Okay. So then, then we just move on rather than, because we do have to keep some confidentiality and district stuff pretty separate. So we just try to, I would say keep it surface level and we’re both pretty good at that.
Yeah, certainly we will have confidentiality obligations.
And this makes me think about additional resources. If there’s an IEP advocate out there or an education lawyer, what are the best ways to learn? Is it to reach out to someone in a complimentary role and has that been the best way to just learn what you need to learn Annie for education law and for Alexandra about special ed?
Or are there better, are there other resources out there that people can go to?
Yeah. I mean we spend, we spend a lot of time learning from each other. Or even asking questions around cases. And I will say there are times that we also look at a case differently, right? And we have to go back and forth about what we think should happen or what the next steps should be.
So, having those conversations and reaching out because every attorney that I’ve worked with has a slightly different style and a slightly different approach, different background, different expertise that they bring to the table. So I do, I love to, to talk to the attorneys about different cases and get their input to hear how things might be different.
So I do think that general connection, particularly for advocates that are just starting out, I think connecting with special ed attorneys and letting them know what you bring to the table maybe, and like why that’s different or similar to other advocates. Particularly if you are a related service or behavior analyst, like what expertise are you showing up with so that they know when to call you.
Because I think as Alexandra said, I’m not her only educational consultant that she works with. Like why would she call me over, know, some of the other ones. I think you just wanna make sure you know your area that you can contribute the most to.
Yeah, that makes sense. Anything on your end, Alexandra, that you’d, recommend for special ed?
I’m sorry for someone in your role to be learning more about special ed.
Yeah, it’s extremely specialized and so I think for me it was really learning as you go. And I think what I’ve experienced, especially dealing with opposing counsel on cases, so cases of where there’s an attorney that’s representing the districts, like the more they know about special education, the better they are at their job because they understand what makes a case and what the violations are.
And without that, you cannot argue the FAPE violations because you’ve gotta understand the education. And so I think it has definitely has been a learn as I go approach going to IEP meetings. I think generally like, and I’ve had providers thank me for being at their meeting or saying, I’ve learned a lot by having you at our meetings.
Because I think one thing that happens is that, like I’ve done trainings for special educators. And what’s super, super common is like someone at some point, however many years ago said some rule that may or may not have any basis in the law, like we can’t do an IEP unless a child is two years behind.
No. But that became truth to them. Or there’s so many of those. I feel like I spent the whole training with special educators being like, no, that’s not true. No, that’s not true. No, that’s not based in, but some principal or some policy person said that to them at some point, or they heard something in a professional development and they think that’s the way it’s done.
And I think that’s oftentimes where the violations come in, where the team says, we don’t do it this way. And that is often, when I train parents, like as soon as you have a team that says, we don’t do that here, or we don’t do it this way, then you say, please provide me the law that says that.
And so when I’m at IEP meetings and I’m saying, well, actually the law says this, or that’s not correct. There’s nothing in the law that says that educators are learning from that. And so I think it’s just like a learn as you go and the more you’re involved in IEP meetings with people that really understand what they’re doing, including, central office people I think a lot of the times the school-based people haven’t been provided sufficient training for developing an IEP or knowing what to do when they need to discuss the least restrictive environment or whether or not they can meet that child’s needs.
Oftentimes that central office people really know more than they do, and so having those people at your meetings, I think you can learn a lot from in terms of what is the procedure that you have to follow.
I feel like education law is, if you’re gonna just look a parent, say a parent is gonna look up on Google, education law for the states or your specific state, that’s probably not easily digestible.
Are there any resources out there for either providers or parents that make it a, break it down a little bit? Like a step before actually hiring a lawyer, for example?
Yeah, I think there’s, I do try to encourage parents if you can find it in your statutes, that it is meant to be written in a way that you can understand it.
It’s not always that way, but there should be some guidance. Each state also has certain requirements that they have to meet, so how they have to have procedural safeguards. So you should definitely go on your state department’s education website, they should be freely accessible there. But there are also, some good resources, particularly in Wrights Law, that WRIGHTS LAW – Wrights Law is a good resource as well.
Yeah, I would say, I was obviously a, I was a lawyer before my 10 year old daughter was born. And I can tell you that it wasn’t, like it wasn’t easy, even easy for me to understand or read. I think there’s a lot to navigate. Even reading an IEP. I was an attorney and reading my own kids’ IEP is confusing.
And I do think that there is this element of educators being the experts and not really empowering parents. And I do think that they’re often, these laws are not written in a way that is digestible. And so, yeah, I would agree. I was gonna say Wrights Law as well. And then, for example, in Maryland we have what’s called The Parents’ Place of Maryland.
Our own particular down syndrome group has mentors. I think Facebook has been a real godsend to a lot of parents. It connects parents in a way that we didn’t, weren’t before and can share resources. But I, yeah, I would probably start with the Wrights Law books. Because the reality, even when I’ve done presentations and I’ve Googled things like I’ve found wrong information. Or it’ll be state by state, and so you’re not looking at your own state.
So it can be a little bit tricky to know what the law is or understand what the law is.
And I, I also think, whatever kind of parent group, whether it’s by disability or age or county or state or something like that the connection with other parents is really amazing and is super supportive.
Definitely go there. I think there, there’s also just a little bit of caution, right, that each person brings their own history to that as well. And in a good way, schools have evolved over time and hopefully, if a parent had a negative experience five years ago, that may not be something that would impact your child as well then.
So I do have some parents call me and say, my kid can’t go to the school because 10 years ago this happened. And so I think it’s important to, I love that connection, but just to make sure that as, as people are connecting to other people for stories that we, you do get some context around that.
And just as educators get the law wrong, parents can also get the law wrong. And so sometimes I’ll, cuz I’m on lots of down syndrome groups and like other special education groups on Facebook. So I’ll see a parent say something and I wanna be like, no, that’s not quite right. But you know, so it’s just with a word of caution.
Yeah, that makes sense. Now in terms of working with parents, I’m curious, you did say earlier Annie, that most of the time when you come in, often the parent is right about what they are requesting from the school. I’m curious for both of you though, have you been in and how do you navigate situations where, yeah, potentially they are off base or they’re requesting something that is not actually legally required or unreasonable for the circumstances or the school resources, things of that nature?
Yeah, so that’s a great question. I will say I really start with a strong values discussion with parents. And it’s not usually, I don’t say, Hey, we’re gonna start talking about values, right? But if they come to me and say, I want X, or this is happening, right? Their experience is almost never validated by the school because they’re worried about repercussions.
So I really do spend a decent amount of time hearing them, giving them space to tell me the full story. And during that discussion, I really am looking for their values as a, as they have identified them, right? And so whether it’s high academic achievement, inclusion, socially decreased, challenging behaviors, fear for the future, right?
There’s a lot of common themes that can come up. And I am usually pretty transparent once we get past that, I say like intake or initial discussion around, they don’t have to do that, right? If they ask for something and it’s they don’t have to do X, right?
Or they don’t have to do Y. But what I hear you saying is that you’re worried about progress, right? And so let’s figure out how we can get more information around progress, or let’s figure out how we can make sure the supervision on the playground is safer. You can’t have 10 people on the playground just for your particular child.
Maybe somebody could. But in general, if that was the request that was somewhat offbeat, I would say something along the lines of, but what I hear is that safety. And so let’s make sure we go into a meeting with the requests that are, I would say usually reasonable, right? I want to show up with something that has taken a concern, digest it, and put it in some ways that can actually be implemented.
And if it can’t, then we need to be talking about why it can’t be and where it can be. But in general, starting with, let’s make sure we are showing up with a request that it addresses the parent’s concern and is reasonable. And truly, I have many text messages and can I talk to you outside around the corner, thanking me for coming right from the school side.
Because I am able to take out some of that emotion and translate from both sides to be able to really come up with something that everybody is agreeable to. My job is to make sure that the outcome is what the child needs, right? So I feel like I’m kinda sometimes a mediator, but knowing the client is usually the child, right?
And keeping and making sure that the parents are heard and seen in that conversation because oftentimes they aren’t. Or like Alexandra said, like they’re saying something and the school can’t even, well, we can’t put 10 people on there. And they’re not jumping to the next, the need that is really underlying that request.
Okay. Has that happened with you, Alexandra, where there’s kinda a mismatch in?
Well, I think it’s really different with me because really the leading question that people have for me is, do I have a case? So they’re looking for my advice on whether or not something can be done, as opposed to, this is what I want you to do it.
And two, because I’m dealing with a lot, it’s much more black and white. And so it’s like either this is a violation or it’s not. Either they’re legally obligated to do this or they’re not. And so I generally find that people are looking to me to, for those answers, and there’s not usually, a concern about whether or not, like if I say to someone, I really don’t think you have a case here for whatever it is.
I think they’re much more relieved to know that they’re going to hear that from me, as opposed to, I’m gonna have you retain me and not be able to be successful in winning and winning your case for you. And so I think that’s people appreciate my honesty when it comes to me saying, I can’t do what you’re wanting.
Do you often have, I guess, how common is that for a family to come and it, are most of the people that come to you like yes, there is a case there and so there’s there are a lot of violations happening in schools, or yeah, that is the case?
Yeah. I think, the sad reality is the IDEA has never been fully funded and I could probably walk into any school and find violations for children.
It is an overwhelming problem. But again, I think oftentimes the parent’s gut is right. They just don’t have the language or they don’t know how to point to the data to support what they’re saying. It is remarkable. Like they really usually are
and while those violations are happening I think the hard part for me sometimes, just as a professional is I really think the vast majority of the people sitting at the table from the school district are doing the absolute best they can. So, but as we know they can’t meet the need of the child for whatever reason that is.
And the things we see are, not enough training or supervision. And I say that not as a behavior analyst, but just levels of support, right? Everybody has needs for continued development and it’s not professional development of being pulled out, get three hours of a training and go back, right?
But the coaching and the ongoing support caseload paperwork, right? Which a lot of that comes down to funding. And so it’s really hard to sit at a table of 10 minimum people and say, you’re not meeting this kid’s needs because everybody is truly, I mean I almost always, right, people are like crying and I’m like, I know you’re doing everything you can.
I know you’re working nights and weekends. I know this kid has been the top of your like, and you’re trying. So I think it, it can get really emotionally hard for me because I do think sometimes, right, like they’re trying, they really are doing everything they can. It just still is not quite what that child needs for their particular free and appropriate public education.
That’s hard. That’s a really hard mismatch. And I mean we certainly see them in the Canadian system as well where it’s a mismatch of the rights of the child and the actual resources available. And that’s tricky. I don’t know, do you have any, either of you have kinda wisdom in those situations where, like the resources available at the school level where, whether that’s like you said, like supervision wise or assistive tech and stuff, are you going more to bat with the board sometimes?
Cause like the school does appear to be doing whatever they can and they need more resource from the board.
Well, I think the most full meetings that we tend to have, and I think Annie would agree with me, are when you’ve got people outside of the school coming to your meetings. Because I think schools teacher, teachers and educators also feel like they’re on island.
And so, and like they’re limited in what they can provide. And so it really is helpful to have someone from central office who can say we can provide someone from central office. Or we can give funding for this to happen, or we can authorize like a one-to-one adult support, or we have a BCBA at the central level or.
So, I think they’re just more aware of resources and that can be helpful.
Yeah, and I do, I always, I really try from a consulting perspective to suggest efficient, right? Not only effective, but super efficient systems changes or requests that I know are gonna be easier, right? So I use all of that behavior analysis of response effort and making sure that the teacher’s gonna contact reinforcement at a high enough level when they change something so things are truly efficient rather than just effective, right?
So I just, for anybody you know, who’s a behavior analyst, you could do a system that’s every five seconds that we know is gonna be effective, but what can be implemented in the public school system and what can be efficient so that the teachers can contact reinforcement, one for your consultation, but two, also they can see the change in the child as well, so that the response effort isn’t too high for the effort that the teachers putting in.
Yeah, that totally makes sense. And that’s, yeah, I think on both those sides, that’s great. Great advice cuz that, that is probably the most common thing I think in any public school system, maybe in the world, where there’s that tension of what can actually be done in the reality of, of the school system.
I wanna touch a little bit more about working with parents. And so when they’re hiring you, are they expecting you to come in and take the lead? Like how does that usually happen when you come in? Because I imagine maybe they’ve already had some meetings, especially for you Alexandra, like things have come to this point where you’re coming in and there’s gonna be legal action.
But what does, yeah, so Annie, like you mentioned like the values conversation. What are the expectations of the family, I suppose when they come in? Maybe this is more for Annie, I suppose, cause it’s probably quite clear for you, Alexandra, that you’re gonna be taking some legal action. But what are the expectations?
Well, even when I show up I look to her and I’m like, so you’re taking the lead, right?
Like how does that work? I guess what I’m trying to get at is the heart of being on a big team, because I also imagine the students that you’re working for have multiple staff people working with them, district staff.
So how does that kind of go at the table?
Sure. So I really, we talk about it beforehand with the parent is what to expect when I’m at a meeting. And what I tell everybody is I show up from a collaborative standpoint. I don’t try to boss the process around, right? This is the process that they need to follow.
They’re trying to, get through the meeting or they need to cover this assessment. So we’re not gonna jump in there and bring up the problems right away. We’re gonna bring the problems up when it’s time to bring the problems up. So a lot of it is letting parents know the process of what to expect so that we don’t become a punisher, honestly.
Or an aversive for the team is that we are waiting for the time to bring things up or how to shift that conversation at the right time. So timing is huge on making sure teams, because they do have their legal obligation to get through things and to get through the process and to be able to address it from their side.
So I often wanna make sure when I’m working with families that they know these are the three things we’re gonna bring up. This is what to expect, and this is when I think they’re gonna come up so that we can insert them at the right time. So oftentimes, I let the process happen. I’m not trying to direct things, I’m not trying to correct every little I that doesn’t have a dot on it or a t that’s not crossed because really I don’t think that builds a good relationship.
So I try to let the teams run. The parents definitely still talk. I always let the parents speak up when you wanna speak, don’t feel like you can’t say anything and want their voice. And then sometimes they say things and teams move on and I will pause them and say, hold up. We didn’t really address what the parents said, so I then I say it again or translate it or like, how are we gonna address it?
But oftentimes, my job is to make sure that what they bring up and what they need is addressed. Cuz oftentimes it is just heard rather than address. So I pause teams and make sure we stay in figuring out where that is. But usually I try to sit back where I can and just let the things happen that need to happen and then insert where we need to be.
Oftentimes I think Annie and I both hear parents being like, I’m gonna let you take the lead. And I think part of that is, is because what I said before, which is that it’s emotional to talk about your own kid. And two, oftentimes more for me than for Annie, by the time they’ve gotten to us, they’re exhausted and they’ve tried on their own and it hasn’t worked.
And I think that’s probably true for Annie too. Like they’ve tried on their own and it hasn’t worked and they’re resentful or tired and they would just want somebody else to take over. Like they’re relieved for somebody else to take over. And I think one thing that I haven’t really talked about ever out loud before, but I think it’s an elephant in a lot of IEP table, IEP rooms is you’re dealing with a parent who has a child with a disability.
And that’s gonna be hard forever. And you’re, you go into meetings and I think, maybe perhaps this is more skewed for someone like me who has a kid with down syndrome and the friends that I know, but you’re going into this meeting, into meetings oftentimes with this underlying fight in you of “My child is worthy. My child has a right to be here. My child should be valued for who they are and seen for their gifts.”
That is an emotional undercurrent for parents all the time when you have a child with a disability. And so it’s just emotional and it’s hard to focus on the specs and the specifics. And so I think that’s part of the relief of having someone there with you who can do that.
I, I know my friends will just be like, I’ve been stressed for days before my IEP meeting, even though conflict necessarily. It’s just like it brings up all of these feelings you have as a parent of a child with a disability.
Yeah. That’s that’s really insightful and so powerful I think, for educators to hear whether they’re parents or not.
Cuz like I said, I think if you’re working in a school it just becomes normalized, these meetings. But to be coming in from the outside with that, yeah, the emotions and that, that’s a lot. So I think good for educators to be hearing that. And wanted to ask a little about tools that you folks use, like when you’re going into your meetings and it, yeah, it just sounds like your soft skills are quite powerful.
Like you were saying Annie, about like having the, knowing the values and like sitting back and like letting things happen and helping the parent like translate. That seems like such a powerful tool of doing that translation. I’m sure for you Alexandra too, translating what the parent is wanting into what will work for the school.
Are there any other tools that you can think of that, or strategies that you would recommend to other people in your respective positions?
Valid and comprehensive evaluations. So often we’re dealing with bad or absent evaluations cuz like that’s what Annie and I rely on a lot of the time is, okay, like, where’s the data to show that this is a deficit? And oftentimes a school hasn’t even thought to do an evaluation, or they haven’t done one in a long time, or they’re so convinced that, we know what this child needs. We haven’t done a formal evaluation in seven years. And so oftentimes what I’m recommending to parents is they go out and get outside evaluations, which shouldn’t be the case.
We shouldn’t have to pay for evaluations that are provided for free by the school system. But I think a lot of that is like oftentimes the first step in a case for us is go out and get an evaluation. Or we need the school system to properly evaluate, or we need to talk to the school system about how this evaluation wasn’t valid or comprehensive, because that’s gonna drive a lot of the argument.
And I think it’s often something that schools don’t, it is oftentimes the thing that schools has not done well.
Yeah, and I think being super clear on the data that is provided. And so if it’s not a formal evaluation, but it’s a present level or it’s a progress report, really making sure that they match.
So there’s oftentimes a lot of information, but not a lot of data that is directly related to the goal and objective. For example, the child’s supposed to learn the consonant sounds and the progress or the present level says, he participates well in reading group. He’s a pleasure to have. That’s lovely.
Thank you for being positive, right? But how many consonants does he know? And those kinds of things. So I think as a strategy and a tool is just to make sure that you can read that and know that you need to ask for the data that is directly related to the skills that are being taught in the IEP.
Yeah, the measurable baseline data, because then we don’t even know whether what we’re doing is appropriate or working if we don’t have that data.
I’m curious about mediation strategies. Alexandra, I’m sure this is like something that you’ve been trained in extensively. But do you, yeah, do you have any, a few basic tips for any practitioner, like just putting yourself into the shoes of an OT and an IEP meeting who’s not trained in this area or experienced or whatnot?
What are some basic mediation skills for those situations that are a little more deadlocked and heated?
I think a phrase that we often use is thank you for all you’ve done. But something isn’t working. And I think, and so Annie alluded to this too, is thank you for everything that you’ve done. I think he’s, the needs of the student is exceeding what he’s currently being provided.
That sounds, yeah, like you said, Annie, like people are trying, and I really like that, it’s like acknowledging what has been done, but also acknowledging that it’s still not working.
I was gonna say, I think that there’s some relief in having that really frank conversation of, This isn’t working. Because I think oftentimes this is a guess on my part that teachers feel like it has to work because what else, like they don’t, what else are they gonna do?
And so to have an outside person say the data is showing that he’s just not making sufficient progress or this isn’t working or the needs, his needs exceed what the school is providing is like a release valve in some ways. Because I think that oftentimes educators and therapists aren’t getting the support they need.
Like oftentimes they’re needing an integrative wraparound approach and they’re an island of one. So I think, just being able to acknowledge that is, can be helpful.
Yeah. Just step into it, get it done and put it out there. Yeah. Anything to add, Annie?
Yeah, I think as far, I do think being clear in the message helps with mediation or to come to an agreement on something or at least know you disagree. Which I think is an important part of all of this is, I have so many families that come to me and said, we had 10 IEP meetings last year and nothing got done.
It’s holy, that’s a lot of time and effort for everybody, right? For the 10 people around the table and for the parent and the stress and all of that, and it’s like nothing got done. So I think at times, to be very direct about what the ask is and then use what’s in the law for the district to have to respond in the prior written notice about do they agree or disagree and why?
Because I just find that, you can’t just keep talking about the same thing over and over again. So you need to know if they disagree. Then you have, the parents have their rights about disagreement. But oftentimes because disagreement feels so uncomfortable and you’re not really, I find a lot of times parents walk out and they’re like, we said a lot, but I’m not really sure if they had, if they, what they said they were gonna do or not do.
They were nice about, and they’re like, well, they were nice about it, but they said they weren’t gonna do it. They said they weren’t gonna do it. Yeah, that’s exactly what they said. But they didn’t say it directly. So oftentimes I’m saying, I’m reiterating again of, okay, so this was asked for, are you saying you’re doing it or you’re not gonna do it?
And they’ll be, we’re not gonna do that. Okay. Put that in the prior written notice and let’s move on. Because oftentimes, you’re just gonna talk about the same thing for these hour meetings every, for 45 minutes of it, and you just don’t get anywhere, so.
I’m laughing cause that happened to me yesterday cuz I was, they were like, I said something.
They’re like, okay. I’m like, what? What’s the response? We’ll put that in the notes. No, I’m not asking for you to put in the notes because what, in fact, what the law says about prior written notice is the prior written notice has to include what was suggested, whether it was agreed upon, refused, and the data to support that decision.
That’s what a prior written notice is. And so you, I think that’s, in talking about tools and what you use, we use the prior written notice to document, the parent requested this, the team’s response was this, the data that they used to support the decision was this, document disagreement. And you move on and you decide what to do with that information.
Now in some states, disagreement means different things, right? So some states you have to sign an IEP every time you change it and stuff. So I do think documenting disagreement is huge and then knowing what your state disagreement options are is really important for for families to navigate.
Yeah, that, those are all very practical tips in those kind of, sorry.
Yeah, and I wasn’t clear on what I meant by mediation, not the legal, but thank you. Those are helpful things for anybody walking in. Cuz I think, like you said, there aren’t a lot of IEP advocates out there, specifically those roles.
I think people probably know about education law, but you know, I’m sure there’s a lot of providers that are just finding themselves in IEP meetings and just having some of those basic tools and tips is helpful.
The last thing I wanna to touch on before we wrap up is your working relationship together. I know you did mention the beginning that there were a couple, you’ve had a couple times where you kinda had to go back and forth with each other and deciding like maybe you had different views on how to move forward.
I’m curious about how you collaborated together and came outta some of those situations where you had different views on something.
Well, I’m gonna defer to Annie. Like Annie is the expert, right? So, and part of that strategy. If my expert doesn’t agree with what my client wants, then I know that on the stand, she’s not gonna say that this is what she needs.
So I know I don’t have the support of an expert, like she’s an expert to whom I rely upon to support those arguments. So she’s saying, look, I just don’t think you know, X, Y, and Z. I’m gonna listen to that. We collaborate, but we very much have our own roles and I don’t want it to ever seem or be like, she is a hired hand.
She’s not. She’s her own expert. And I’m simply trying to ensure that the team does what she’s recommending because that comes up. And also that, know, that comes up in cases too. Like, we’re gonna try to certify, our goal is to certify her as an expert. And if a judge thinks that she’s just towing the line for what the family wants me to say, then that’s not a successful case.
And so that’s how I operate. I would never ask her to do something that she doesn’t professionally or ethically agree with. And if she disagrees, then you know, we’re, I’m not gonna ask her to do something different.
Yeah. And I think sometimes cases are complex, right? So there may be parts that we, like this is exactly what should happen and I’m positive about that.
And then there are parts that like, the situation is difficult. And so we go, how are we gonna approach this? Is it gonna be in an IEP meeting? How are we gonna talk to the parents about it? So, and it’s funny to hear Alexandra say she defers to me. It took me a while as a behavior analyst, really, truly, that was part of my, how do I, how can I say for sure what they need, right?
Like, where’s the data? We haven’t done an AB design to say this is exactly what this child needs. And it really was through working with attorneys that they helped me understand what an expert opinion is. They had to operationally define that for me. And it really is using that experience, training expertise to develop an opinion and to have as much support around that opinion on what an individual needs. And truly things get super complicated for me because I do have a contract with some school districts where I do training for them.
I have been an expert in some of their cases. So I do work with school districts, I work with families. I have to be really clear about conflicts. There are times when we’ll joke and be like, well, I can’t talk to you about, you know about this because I think you’re the attorney on that case, right?
And she’s I don’t know. I’m like, well, I have a letter that has your name on it and your, and so we do, I think there are times when those things happen, but to me, that really has to put us in that professional lane, right? Of this is, I would say this when I testify, I have, and this is true. I’m not gonna lie for anybody, right?
Like that’s my ethics, that’s my morals. So no matter whether it’s district pressure, attorneys, parents, like I have to really be able to go to sleep at night and not go to jail for lying to tell. So and that’s what I tell families and attorneys, right? You can ask me and if I give you my opinion and you disagree with it, tell me because we can talk through that.
Maybe I can explain it differently. Maybe I can show you some research, maybe we can talk about it. Or you can fire me, right? I’m not going to lie or make things up or things like that when we have some of those tough spots. Because we have kids that are super complex. would say the easy cases don’t make it, don’t make it to us. But some of the really complex cases are hard.
The other reason why I uh, end up deferring to her is I often don’t meet my clients. The clients are the parents, but I don’t meet their child. And one of the values to Annie is she’s the eyes on the ground, she’s the boots on the ground.
And so it’s really difficult to be advocating when you don’t know the child. And so that’s partly why we end up, I end up recommending to clients that they hire her. Like I always say, I can help you create the best IEP possible, but unless you have someone going in and seeing what’s actually happening, whether they’re implementing, we don’t know if this is working.
And so that’s part of why I’m deferring to them, her, because usually at a team meeting, I’m the child, I’m the person that knows the child the least. I’m just trying to follow the law.
That makes sense. It sounds like such a great, yeah, complimentary skillset that you both have working together. And I just wanted to end on a, hopefully a positive note.
Do you have, Annie, without getting into details to protect confidentiality, do you have any success stories that you could share where the two of you have either worked together or if one of you wants to share a story just about how advocacy and well, maybe one that stands out or even like a kind of a general story?
Yeah, I mean I think in general the cases that I would say are successful really are the children start to thrive. They feel like they belong, they feel like a valued member of their community and they’re making tremendous progress academically, communication, behaviorally. And I will tell you, and that the parents feel confident that they made the best decision.
So we often work with cases where all of those things are really not even like rocky or like difficult. And so I would say, how we define success sometimes, and I think it’s a little bit different. Alexandra the other day said, I either win a case or I lose a case.
And to me, I think it’s just such an evolution of a case that we have worked together across lots of counties, lots of ages, lots of disabilities together. And there tend to be just lots of growth on school teams and parents for the benefit of the child. But we tend, I think to zoom in on one would be really hard, but just to know that, we do work.
I would say, we’ve had done kindergarten through 21, right across lots of disability categories. In general, I tend to focus on autism, intellectual disabilities, emotional behavior disorders as the categories or multiple disabilities. And so those tend to be the cases that I take.
I feel like I could do specific learning disabilities and things like that, that are other categories. But I can do the others that much easier. And it’s just right now where I am in my life with my three young kids that I just like to stick with what I know. So I think when I think about stories of how to tell the, we do tend to get some cases in the down syndrome community because of Alexandra’s connection with that community as well as I do some trainings with them as well.
I think that it’s an amazing community to work with.
I mean, so I think the idea that most of the time parents are right really means that, I’m at the risk of sounding like I’m exaggerating. Like we do win most of, we, we pretty much win all the cases we bring. And part of that is, I will say like I sought out what I thought was the best, one of the best special education attorneys in the state.
And I said, I wanna work with you. And so I’m also have the benefit of working for Mark Martin, who has a long history of being an extremely talented and intelligent advocate. And, it is knowing that if they don’t give us what we want, then we’re gonna probably have a pretty successful litigation.
And I think that helps a lot. And so it’s a combination of what I bring to the table and the firm that I’m a part of. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, there, it is, it is amazing how many times I have heard the phrase, “I feel like I have a different child”. Because oftentimes, again, they come to us when things have just gotten so bad and when they are finally in the right placement with the appropriate IEP, it feels like they have a different child or the phrase is, I have my child back.
That happens a lot. Or I was just talking to a client that was like, refusal. Work refusal was the biggest thing that happened at the school. And we’re talking about whether collecting data about work refusal at the new school and the new school’s like we don’t have any data because he’s not refusing to do any work. Like it’s just not a thing here. I mean it, so you know what the new school sees is an entirely different kid than what’s happening before.
Interesting. Wow. Yeah. That must be so motivating for you to continue your work when you hear those stories. Yeah.
On those hard days.
Yeah. Just think about those statements. Wow. That’s beautiful.
Well, thank you so much to both of you. I really appreciate your insights. I think you had so many amazing takeaways there for other professionals who are in related situations. So thank you for that and have a great afternoon.
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