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When your child needs special education services — or you think they might — the process of getting the help they need from their school can sometimes be frustrating, stressful, intimidating, and more. Today’s roundup of five of the best special education resources for parents has everything you need to educate yourself on your and your child’s rights, learn to be a strong advocate for them, and identify resources outside the school district.
Offline special education resources include educational advocates (some who provide services at no cost) and special education lawyers — which probably require their own posts! (By the way, we certainly acknowledge that some schools ARE helpful, cooperative, and easy to worth with. Also, a big thank you to special education teachers/service providers everywhere!)
A note on language: “Special education” and “special needs” are often viewed as problematic terms, and many in the disability community prefer using the word “disabled” to avoid them. (Related recommended reading: this article from Vanderbilt University.) We use “special education” here because it’s currently the most common term and we want parents seeking resources to be able to find this post.
A final note: We are not listing Autism Speaks as a resource for reasons detailed in this article.
Corporette has covered some topics that might be of interest, including how to deal with sensory issues at work, as well as whether or not to tell your colleagues that you’re autistic.
5 of the Best Online Special Education Resources for Parents
Wrightslaw has a ton of information on special education law and advocacy. The site, which marked 25 years (!) in 2023, is named for its creators, Pete and Pam Wright, a lawyer and a psychotherapist, respectively. In addition to maintaining a special education advocacy library, the couple writes books, offers seminars and training, writes a blog and newsletter, and more.
It’s easier to use the site if you’re looking for something specific, because simply browsing it can be overwhelming. For example, look something up in the A-Z topic library, glossaries of assessment terms and special education and legal terms, or the special education FAQ. You’ll also find the “Yellow Pages for Kids,” a directory of every kind of professional you can think of that can help you and your child: therapists, advocates, attorneys, and so on.
The mission of the nonprofit Understood is to “provide resources and support so people who learn and think differently can thrive — in school, at work, and throughout life.” The organization was founded 30 years ago by Fred and Nancy Poses after they faced challenges in getting their son’s needs met.
One of their many useful resources is called Take N.O.T.E., a step-by-step tool to gather necessary information to seek professional support for your child. N.O.T.E. stands for Notice, Observe, Talk, and Engage. Others include a newsletter (subscribe on the homepage) and many articles on all sorts of topics, including social skills, focus and attention, managing emotions, school supports, and staying organized. There are several podcasts, a blog, and even workplace resources for employers.
A Day in Our Shoes
A Day in Our Shoes‘ tagline is “Don’t IEP Alone,” and yes, if your child has an IEP (or 504), you may need all the help you can get, from anywhere you can get it, especially if you’re new to special education services. The site, created by special educational advocate Lisa Lightner, has tons of articles on autism, ADHD, and so on, as well as a podcast, an IEP toolkit ($24), free IEP data collection sheets, a discussion forum, and a subscriber Facebook group ($4.99/mo.) with exclusive content.
A Day in Our Shoes offers IEP Advocacy Mini Courses (free registration required to see what’s available) with offerings that range in price from $24 (“IEP Toolkit for Parents”) to $396 (“Next Level Professional Advocacy”).
As their website explains, The PACER Center is a nonprofit that “provides individual assistance, workshops, publications, and other resources to help families make decisions about education and other services for their child or young adult with disabilities.” The center was created in 1977 by parents of disabled children and currently offers newsletters, articles, workshops and events (online and in Minnesota), educational publications (including some translated to Spanish, Somali, Hmong, and Karen), and parent leadership training (Zoom options available).
Minnesotans, you’re in luck, because locally, the PACER Center offers a symposium on best practices regarding children’s mental health and learning disabilities, an educational puppet program, a lobby day, a teen tech program, and more.
ADDitude, which has been around since 1998, is a helpful site for kids with ADHD and their parents, as well as adults with ADHD (and clinicians and teachers). Besides many articles on diagnosing, treating, and living with ADHD, as well as working with your child’s school to get them what they need, ADDitude offers newsletters, webinars and a podcast, a blog, videos, free downloads, ebooks (in PDF), a magazine, a directory of ADHD treatment providers, and more.
The parenting section of the includes topics like school and learning, schedules and routines, health, food and nutrition, teens with ADHD, etc. (Note that the site shares information on medication as well as “natural remedies.”) To get started, check out the site’s “best of 2023” articles and blog posts.
Note: ADDitude changed its site navigation since the last time I visited the site, and it looks like they may have removed some older content, though I can’t tell for sure.
Bonus Tip: A Quick Tip for Finding the Info You Need Online
For those readers who aren’t aware: It’s easy to search a single website for a certain word/topic/phrase. Google search isn’t what it used to be (so frustrating!), and not every site has an effective search function of its own. To find something on a particular site, use the Google Advanced Search page or simply type something like “”adaptive PE” site:wrightslaw.com”.