Navigating Special Education

Sharing my experience as a parent of special education students Part One

Have you noticed your child is not like the other children in their class? Has their teacher suggested they be evaluated by a professional? Has their pediatrician told you they are not developing as a child their age should be? Or, perhaps your child already has a diagnosis such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, or another similar condition.

Welcome to the family!

I am the mother of three children; my two older children have autism and have been a part of special education in the School District of Waukesha since 2011. Throughout the past decade, I have been at the mercy of teachers, social workers, and psychologists to give me the resources I need to get the support my children are entitled to; however, the necessary information sharing happens far too infrequently. I am writing this series of articles to share my experiences, the information I have learned, and the resources available to families and their special needs children.

Dear Reader, before we continue, I believe you must read and believe what this paragraph says. First, your child is not damaged or stupid; they have a bright future that includes a career and family. You, as a parent, are not at fault for how your child was born; neuroscience does not know why autism and other disorders occur in some children. Second, when a concern about your child is brought to your attention, do not be angry with the messenger. Your child’s teacher is not bringing this to you because they do not like you, or think your child is dumb, it’s because they want your child to succeed. Teachers know what is normal developmental behavior and what is not. After all, teachers work with a large number of very different kids; take their advice seriously. Third, your child has a medical condition that needs treatment much like diabetes or high blood pressure. There is a million dollar “natural medicine” industry that preys on parents by spreading lies about prescription medications. Is there merit in ruling out a food allergy or intolerance to artificial dyes? Absolutely! Should that replace the treatment plan a doctor, who has gone to school for fifteen years to specialize in the treatment of children, has prescribed? No.

The thought of your child being diagnosed with a disorder is scary but perhaps these ideas will place your mind at ease. [The following statements come from personal experience as a parent and are not medical advice from a medical professional.] Get a second opinion; good doctors are not offended when patients seek a second opinion. If medication is needed, I believe it is good practice for a doctor to prescribe the minimum amount of medication first, see how the child tolerates that, and work up from there; less is better. Finally, my children’s doctors sent them to a specialty called Neuropsychology to be evaluated and diagnosed; neuropsychologists are experts in diagnosing disorders such as autism, therefore it does not hurt to ask your child’s physician if a referral is appropriate.

At this point in our journey, your child has a diagnosis, and you need resources, education, and support. Your child’s doctor might have given you several pieces of paper with phone numbers and agency names, or maybe not. Worry not, dear reader, because this one department has many of the resources your family needs.

Waukesha County Health and Human Services
514 Riverview Ave.
Waukesha, WI 53188

Health and Human Services (HHS) handles everything from aging adults to mental health. HHS offers child assessment, parent education and other disability services and assessments. Contacting HHS is a solid starting point in your quest for knowledge.

HHS: 262-548-7666

Facebook support groups, national websites, and books written by experts in the field of your child’s diagnosis are great but be wary. Do not believe “facts” presented by random Facebook folks without checking them first. The “expert” that wrote the book everyone on the Facebook support group is talking about; Is the author a medical doctor or PhD? Does the author reference where their research came from? Does the book have a list of references you can look at yourself or is it strictly the personal experience of Dr. Quack Pot McWannaBeAMillionaire and cannot be proven as having happened the way the book says it did? You will become an expert on your child’s diagnosis; and you are the expert on your child. Do not let any medical professional tell you otherwise.

And that, dear reader, is the end of part one. Part two will explain what you and your child can, and should, expect from the school district. Thank you for reading, I hope these are helpful!