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Why You Need to Be Willing to Ask "Dumb" Questions
by Pat Howey, Advocate

"I'm just a parent. This is probably a dumb question but ... "

image of signs with who, what, where, why, when, questionsMost of us who are parents/advocates started out the same way -- inexperienced about special education. There is a difference between being "dumb" and being "uninformed."

If you are like me, no one provided or volunteered you with any information about where to start, what to do, whom to contact, or what to ask. I learned from the "School of Hard Knocks" (where, by the way, the school colors are Black & Blue). Most of my questions were "dumb."

No matter how "dumb" your questions may seem, they are probably far more intelligent than the questions I asked when I entered the "maze." I appreciate the patience of those people who walked me through the maze.

The parents of preschoolers I meet today are much more sophisticated than I was when my daughter entered kindergarten -- and had been in the "system" for four years.

I was so "dumb" that I provided a desk for my daughter when she was in first grade. I was so "dumb" that I didn't know that if the school did not have an appropriate desk on hand, they had to provide one.

I was so "dumb" that I provided my daughter's transportation during kindergarten and first grade, although my other children rode the school bus. I was so "dumb" that I didn't know the school was required to provide appropriate transportation for my child if she could not ride a regular school bus. I was so "dumb" that I didn't know that the school had to reimburse me if I transported her.

I was so "dumb" that when my daughter was in first grade, her father or I went to school every day she was scheduled for physical education so we could remove her from activities that were contraindicated for her physical condition. I was so "dumb" I didn't know there was such a thing as adapted physical education, or that the school had to make accommodations for her disability and modifications to the curriculum.

How do we become informed, educated parent advocates for our children when information is withheld or not provided?

We have to ask questions. Lots and lots of questions. Wrightslaw's From Emotions to Advocacy urges parents to ask "Who, What, Why, When, Where, How, and Explain" (5 W's + H + E) questions.

Asking questions is the very, very best way to learn how to negotiate the maze of special education.

The moral of this story is that the only "dumb" question is the one you do not ask. If you are wondering about something, someone else -- probably many others -- are also wondering.

So, ask.


For information about Physical Education and Adapted Physical Education: A Requirement for Your Child's Special Education Program, click here.

For information about Related Services, including transportation to school, as Pat described in this article, click here.

For information on Modifications & Accommodations, including modifications to curriculum and Adapted Physical Education (PE) that Pat mentioned in her article, click here.

Some children with disabilities need accommodations and modifications in their special education programs. This 4 page printer-friendly PDF article defines accommodations and modifications and gives examples for books, curriculum, instruction, assignments, and behavior.

Remember that denying the accommodations and modifications that will allow the child equal access to an education is a denial of the child's right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Learn more here.

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

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Revised: 07/15/19


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