The Wrightslaw Way

to Special Education Law and Advocacy

The Wrightslaw Way random header image

What Works? How Will I Get the Services My Son Needs?

by Debbie Larson

Boy, can I relate to the difficulties described in this post about the difference in high income / low income school districts!

I saw the differences in test scores between high income schools and low income rural districts.  And my children were in the rural district.

My son needed special education services.  He needed higher cost services so he could get a genuine education.  How was I going to get the school to provide what I knew he needed?

I did learn the advocacy skills Pam speaks of.  I read the Wright’s website and their books. I read the laws and the regulations.  I read case law to understand how the courts were interpreting the laws and what judges were saying in their decisions.

Did I make mistakes along the way?   Sure I did.  But I quickly learned that bluster and threats do not work.

I also learned what does work

  • I learned that developing alliances among the staff  helped a lot.
  • I learned that gathering with other parents helped a lot.
  • I learned that simply going to Board of Education meetings got the attention of the Board members.  They wondered why I was showing up regularly.  They wondered about the questions I asked in public sessions. That led them to ask some of the same questions.  The administration HAD to answer them.
  • I learned that maintaining a paper trail and documenting meetings and conversations helped because it held people accountable for what they were telling me.
  • I learned that appreciating efforts, both verbally and in writing helped.  I could not be seen as a trouble maker when I clearly appreciated effort and reminded staff and administrators of the talented and dedicated people in the school.
  • I learned that it is possible to disagree with a staff person’s opinion without vilifying the person.
  • I learned that many times, the best outcome came from a difference of opinion when it was thoughtfully resolved.
  • I learned that being “pleasantly persistent” is a great way to produce compliance with the agreed on services.
  • I learned that when I was polite to people, I was not responsible for their emotions. (Some people do learn that being angry or upset can work to deflect expectations of compliance.)
  • I learned that I couldn’t expect everyone to feel the same way I did about my son or his needs.  And I learned that that is OK.  I understood my son’s needs.  That was my job.

Rural, urban, suburban – it matters less where you are than how you approach the matter.

Advocacy skills are not a guarantee of FAPE.

Advocacy skills are absolutely necessary for effective participation in the process of getting FAPE for your child.


Meet Debbie Larson on the Wrightslaw “Ask the Advocates” page at

Read How I Got the School to Change My Son’s Program & Placement at

Print Friendly

Tags:   20 Comments

Leave a Reply

20 Comments on "What Works? How Will I Get the Services My Son Needs?"

The Heartbroken Parent

I’ve learned that unless you have money, and a significant amount of it, then if the district wants to continually deny your child of FAPE, they can. I agree that kind words go a lot farther than harsh. I’ve learned that sometimes you don’t know how to approach the matter until it’s too late. I’ve learned that no matter how much teachers want to help, when the administration has made up their mind, teacher’s hands are tied when it comes to an IEP. I’ve learned there are many people out there who want to help, but can’t. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to make a choice between selling your home or continue legal services. I’ve learned that when the financial means run out, so does the help. I’ve learned that in extreme cases like my child’s, my child will never have anything close to FAPE because we cannot afford it.


Thanks Pam and Pete for publishing these comments and observations from parents. Parents are so intimidated in special education meetings because they don’t know the special ed language or how to interpret tests. They need an advocate to help them negotiate for what education plan and modifications their children need to be learners. Who am I? A retired Special Ed Teacher still substituting Indiana.


On Jan 22, Lisa said: “I think there is a fine line between “threats and bluster” and “being firm and letting people know you mean business”. Sometimes stopping pleasantries and putting your foot down can be effective if it is done in the right way.”
When I read this I immediately thought of renown atty Gerry Spence. We start each chapter of our From Emotions to Advocacy book with a quote. Chap 27, last chapter, quote from Spence is “If we or our argument are perceived as a threat, we will never be heard.” Bottom line, think about how you are being perceived!


I think there is a fine line between “threats and bluster” and “being firm and letting people know you mean business”. Sometimes stopping pleasantries and putting your foot down can be effective if it is done in the right way. I spent several months arguing with my son’s school (9 years old, 4th grade, ADHD/Anxiety/Reading disability) about his IEP not being followed. I was firm. I was assertive. They didn’t like it. In the end, I got what I needed.

Being firm and assertive can be interpreted as being aggressive but that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when being firm and assertive is called for rather than being pleasant and documenting… that’s why advocacy is difficult.

I was able to resolve my issue with my son’s school without involving attorneys, and he is getting FAPE. That’s a win!

donna j

My son has spastic quad cp. developementally delayed. He is in a wheelchair. My problem is my sons hygeine, the aide at his school is not changing his diaper.Can you imagine sitting in a wet diaper all day? I have addressed it to the school, teacher etc.what happens if this problem isnt corrected? Can legal action on neglect-poossible?I know if my son isnt being changed–what about the other kids???