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Feeling Guilty About Asking For Special Ed Services? Remember the Domino Effect
by Pat Howey, Advocate

Many parents feel guilty about asking the school to provide a specific service or device for their child. If your child needs a particular service or device, it is unlikely that he or she is the only child who has this need.

When you achieve a new benefit, program, or related service for your child, the "system" will often find other children who will also benefit from what it is required to provide for your child to justify its actions.

I call this the “domino effect.” Schools call it “opening the floodgates.”

Lessons from Our Due Process Hearing

In 1987, we requested a due process hearing for our child. During and after the hearing, welearned several important lessons including how it benefitted other children.

Laptop Computer

when we requested a due process hearing for our child, one issue was whether she needed a laptop computer. (This was before the term “assistive technology” was in the law). In settlement negotiations during the hearing, the school agreed to provide the computer.

However, the school did not purchase one computer - it purchased three computers. Two other children benefited from what were able to obtain for our child. After the school crossed that bridge, many other children have received laptop computers to assist them in their education.

Adapted Physical Education

A second issue in our hearing was whether my child required Adapted Physical Education (APE). At the time of our hearing in 1987, APE was not provided to any child in the entire county. The hearing officer ruled that my child did require adapted physical education.

When the next school year began, the school had hired a physical education teacher with a masters degree in adapted physical education. Since 1988, APE has been provided to hundreds of children in our county.

Direct Physical Therapy (PT) & Occupational Therapy (OT)

A third issue in our due process hearing was whether my child needed direct Physical Therapy (PT) and Occupational Therapy (OT).

At the time of our due process hearing, the school contracted with one physical and occupational therapist for six hours a week. Children who needed PT or OT received these services through a "consultation" model. A “gross motor aide” who was paid minimum wage and who was required to have a General Equivalency (GED) or High School diploma (but who had no training in PT or OT) provided children with “exercises.”

The hearing officer ruled that my child required direct PT and OT services.

As a result, since 1988, hundreds of children in our county have received direct services from Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Physical Therapy Assistants (PTA), and Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA).

The school has at least two full time physical and occupational therapists on staff during the year.

Many, many children now receive direct PT and OT services. Some continue to receive "exercises" from a gross motor aide, probably because their parents do not know what their children are receiving.

Strong Parent Advocacy Leads to Changes in the System

Our due process hearing was well publicized. It was open to the public, with television cameras and radio reporters in attendance. We invited parents to attend, so they could see what an actual hearing was all about.

After our hearing, six more parents requested hearings. Some cases were settled. Others went to hearing. Many other parents filed successful state and OCR complaints.

The voters in our county elected several new new school board members. Two superintendents eventually retired or resigned. The special ed director chose early retirement

Lessons Learned

I do not recommend that all parents take public stances in their disputes with their schools. This is an individual decision that each parent must make, based on the issues and facts of their own case.

In 1987, my child was in the second grade. None of her friends read the paper or watched the news. The publicity had little impact on her. Had she been older, our decision to go public in our dispute with the school may have been different to protect her privacy.

For those parents who have strong family support and the courage to publicize their special ed issues, your bravado can provide a valuable learning experience for other parents of children with special needs.

You will make some enemies. You will make some new friends. You will learn who your true friends are.


In the fall of 2000, thirteen years after our due process hearing, I met a retired teacher who recalled our hearing. She thanked me. As a direct result of our hearing, she was able to obtain services for her children she had never been able to obtain before.

Individual parent advocacy does make a systemic impact. Sometimes the impact is greater than you know.

However, individual advocacy is a slow, slow process. This process has taught me more about patience than any other experience in my life.

That’s why I continue to go through life “Changing the World – One Child at a Time.”

Meet Pat Howey

Pat HoweyPatricia Howey has supported families of children with disabilities since 1985. She has a specific learning disability and became involved in special education when her youngest child entered kindergarten. Pat has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who have a variety of disabilities and she has used her experience to advocate for better special education services for several of them.

Pat is a charter member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), serving on its Board of Directors from 2000 through 2003. She has been a Commissioner on the Tippecanoe (County) Human Relations Committee, a graduate of Leadership Lafayette and Partners in Policymaking, and a member of the Wrightslaw Speakers Bureau. She has been on the faculty of the College of William and Mary Law School’s Institute of Special Education Advocacy since its inception in 2011.

Pat has an A.S. and a B.A. in Paralegal Studies from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, where she graduated magna cum laude. She is an Indiana Registered Paralegal and an affiliate member of the Indiana Bar and the American Bar Associations.

Pat began her advocacy career as a volunteer for the Task Force on Education for the Handicapped (now InSource), Indiana’s Parent Training and Information Center. In 1990, she opened her advocacy practice and served families throughout Indiana by representing them at IEP meetings, mediation, and due process hearings.

In 2017, Pat closed her advocacy practice and began working on a contract basis as a special education paralegal. Attorneys in Indiana, Texas, and California contracted with her to review documents, spot issues, draft due process complaints, prepare for hearings, and assist at hearings. In January 2019, she became an employee of the Connell Michael Kerr law firm, owned by Erin Connell, Catherine Michael, and Sonja Kerr. Her duties have now expanded to assisting with federal court cases.

"Changing the World -- One Child at at Time.

Contact Information

Patricia L. Howey, B.A., IRP
POB 117
West Point, Indiana 47992-0117

Copyright © 2005 Pat Howey

Created: 01/01/05
Revised: 06/28/19

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