The Bottom Line
By Barbara Coyne Cutler with Sue Pratt; 294 pages. Subtitle: A Guide to Dealing With the System
Working with your child's school to plan an IEP and make sure the program is carried out properly is a daunting task for most parents. With this comprehensive guide, author Barbara Coyne Cutler seeks to calm your fears, organize your priorities, muster your courage, and maybe slip an advocate in the room with you to make sure you get what your child deserves. Whether the result makes you more confident or less will probably depend on your personal style and your school's degree of difficulty.
- Text is engaging and easy to follow
- Author includes many dialogs to give parents a feel for what they need to do
- Sample letters, charts, and checklists are among the useful resources offered
- Exposes many myths and mistaken beliefs that schools use to counter parent advocacy
- Helps parents recognize the skills they already have that can serve them well in IEP negotiations
- Some parents may not feel up to the tasks presented here, and may feel judged for not taking them on
- Seems suspicious of parents who are too collaborative and cooperative with schools
- Perhaps because the author works as a consultant and advocate, the text emphasizes their necessity
- Best for parents just starting out or who want to change their approach in the face of failure
- If you've been doing this for a while, may cause you to second-guess yourself
- Chapter 1: It's About Rights
- Chapter 2: Keeping Up with IDEA
- Chapter 3: The Myths Stop Here: Substituting Fact for Fiction
- Chapter 4: Services and Snow Jobs: Understanding Your School System
- Chapter 5: Using Your Everyday Skills: "Hey, I Can Do That"
- Chapter 6: Getting Inside Your Child's School: What It's Like for Your Student
- Chapter 7: Getting the Right IEP
- Chapter 8: Confrontation: When Nice Guys Finish Last
- Chapter 9: And the Beat Goes On: The Need for Constant Advocacy
- Appendix A: Parent Information Centers
Appendix B: Other Resources
Guide Review - Book Review: You, Your Child, and "Special" Education
I've spent a lot of years in the special-education system, shepherding my two kids from preschool through high school. I like to think I did a pretty good job, collaborating as a team with school personnel to develop appropriate programs and make the best of available options. But of all the things that can shake my confidence, nothing -- not even a know-it-all educator with an agenda -- undermines my faith in myself like this sort of book. An author who has a strong point of view about how a parent must advocate (and that a parent must advocate with an advocate) can make me second-guess my accomplishments in spite of myself.
Which doesn't mean that this book won't be perfectly useful to you, especially if you're just starting out. The author talks readers through many different situations, through many different degrees of school cooperation or resistance, presenting dialogs to show how parents can assert themselves effectively. The text is easy to read and acknowledges parents' reluctance while providing the necessary pep talks. You'll find sample letters, checklist, charts, and other useful resources for organizing your advocacy.
Whether the material fills you with resolve or overwhelms you with anxiety is probably more a function of your particular personal style than anything the author is doing right or wrong. Personally, from my experience, I felt that the book undervalued cooperation with the school (though perhaps the author would describe me as "co-opted" rather than cooperative or collaborative) and overvalued the necessity of an advocate (though in many situations they are certainly useful). Parents who are approaching special education with firm beliefs and an eagerness to engage in all the details and the obligations of the law will find a great deal of value in this book, but I fear that parents who find that thought terrifying may be overwhelmed by it.
The fact is, parents of children in special education are required to know way more about the nuts and bolts of their children's schooling than typical parents, and it stinks that we don't have the same luxury of assuming that professionals know what they're doing as most of our parenting peers. Given that, parents can use all the information they can get about their rights, their children's rights, the way things are done in other districts, and techniques for engaging in a proactive, positive, and powerful way. For that, this book is certainly valuable. But as with any parenting book, feel free to take what makes sense and works for you without feeling obligated to follow it to the letter.