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Book Review: A Parent's Guide to Special Education

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Book Review: A Parent's Guide to Special Education
Cover image courtesy of AMACOM

The Bottom Line

By Linda Wilmshurst, PhD, ABPP, and Alan W. Brue, PhD, NCSP; 262 pages. Subtitle: Insider Advice on How to Navigate the System and Help Your Child Succeed

If you get most of your information on special education politics and practices from advocates and lawyers, this book will serve as a nice counterpoint. Written by two school psychologists, it offers explanations more clear and calm than those you might get in the heat of a contentious Child Study Team meeting, and provides some perspective from personnel you might otherwise think of as "the enemy."

About the Guide Rating

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  • Clear and easy to read
  • Explains all those evaluation results professionals throw at you
  • Gives good advice for working with teachers and team members
  • Includes information on the latest IDEA changes
  • Offers a friendly perspective from the other side of the table


  • More focused on initial evaluation and classification than ongoing issues
  • There's enough variation in evaluations that this still may not explain the ones you get
  • Section on how to be a good parent seems to overstep the bounds a bit
  • Will probably be most of interest when you're actually facing a meeting


  • Chapter 1: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004: What a Great IDEA!
  • Chapter 2: Not All Roads Lead to Special Education Placement: The 411 on 504 Plans
  • Chapter 3: A Comparison of IDEA 2004 and Section 504, and a Brief Look at No Child Left Behind
  • Chapter 4: The Psychological Assessment: What to Expect
    Chapter 5: The Assessment of Intelligence
  • Chapter 6: Other Psychological Assessments
    Chapter 7: Understanding Your Child's Disability
  • Chapter 8: Labels: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
    Chapter 9: You and Me and the IEP
  • Chapter 10: Beyond Eligibility
    Chapter 11: A Parent's Guide to Parent-Teacher Communication and School Meetings
  • Chapter 12: A Parent's Guide to Stress and Coping
  • Chapter 13: A Parent's Guide to Building Your Child's Self-Esteem and Increasing Social Competence
  • Chapter 14: A Parent's Guide to Behavior and Discipline

Guide Review - Book Review: A Parent's Guide to Special Education

Maybe special-ed law is one of those subjects so confusing that our brains protectively shut out all understanding unless we need it in a specific circumstance. I tried reading A Parent's Guide to Special Education over the summer, when my kids' IEPs were tidily completed and there were no perplexing placement problems keeping me up at night, and honestly, I couldn't get through it. Dry! I thought. Boring! And yet, here I am this month, coping with a three-year evaluation and various placement battles for my daughter, and I whipped through the book in a week. Fascinating! I thought. Engaging! The brain seeks what it needs, I guess, and otherwise avoids things that jumble it up.

This is subject matter that's hard to explain and wide open to interpretation, but the authors manage to present it in an organized and thoughtful way, with a minimum of jargon. Whether you've had good relationships with school psychologists or strained ones, you've probably never had the time to really sit down and talk in detail about what all these tests mean and why they're done and what those classifications do. You'll get a rare insider's view of the process, with respect for all those involved in it.

That respect fades at the end when the authors step outside the educational setting and start telling parents how they should deal with their children at home. The tone that's been collaborative throughout takes on a tinge of, "We've seen such a lot of bad parents. Let us show you how not to be one of them." And while I generally respect the experience and expertise of school personnel in the school environment, boy oh boy, do not tell me how to parent my child. If I want your opinion, I'll ask -- or buy a book called A Parent's Guide to What Your School Psychologist Thinks You're Doing Wrong.

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