Tales from an IEP Meeting

Sharing in hopes it may help someone else… Things I learned today as a mom: 1. People will passionately fight to make a child with autism and intellectual disability take a test (MCAS) that they concede he will fail. An easy way out for teachers vs. doing the work of putting together a portfolio. 2. The BACB ethical standards requiring 10% BCBA supervision time for all ABA programming provided is not popular with programs and districts, even when kids need it. It’s also sadly not accepted by some licensed BCBAs who are apparently willing to risk their licenses. 3. Transition meetings are extra-hard. 4. Numbers do matter. 5. Preparing a student to enter the adult world involves a whole village and team of people working together, even grudgingly, in the best interest of the student. 6. There is no perfect program, and finally… 7. It’s ok to discriminate against kids in a certain class at a program’s whim and to give some students favor. “We can’t change anything to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Today showed me, the parent, why I have a job as an educational advocate.

Never stop advocating for your children.  It’s one thing in the journey of being a parent of a child with special needs I DO have control over.  I am a big part of my child’s VOICE and it’s my job to ensure his VISION is met.

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Helping children, one student at a time

“Laurel Collins is an extremely dedicated and knowledgeable educational advocate. My husband and I were fortunate enough to find Laurel, on recommendation from our daughter’s neuropsychologist and psychologist, within a week of a big IEP meeting. Laurel did not hesitate to immediately dive right in and help us. She reviewed all of our daughter’s evaluations and quickly came up with a successful strategy to get our daughter what she deserved.  We ended up getting an appropriate and strong program our daughter, and this would not have been possible without Laurel.  She is compassionate and collaborative and is an expert in communicating with school systems. Words can not describe how grateful my husband and I are to have Laurel Collins as our educational advocate. We highly recommend Laurel to anyone in search of an advocate for their child.”

-Lisa S., February 2016
My passion lies in supporting children.  My skills best support children in early intervention, early education and preschool, and elementary school.  I have a special place in my heart for working with children with autism (like the little girl mentioned above), Down Syndrome, and developmental delays.

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Who do I go to for ____?

Parents often ask me to recommend special education professionals.

I’ve compiled a short list of folks I have personally worked with who I have found to be effective, professional, and excellent resources for families.

It can be found here: https://laurelcollins.wordpress.com/resources/

Happy New Year!

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What’s a Facilitated Team Meeting?

In Massachusetts, the Bureau of Special Education Appeals not only conducts the important work of administrative hearings, they do two very important other things. They employ mediators who conduct both mediations and IEP meetings called “Facilitated Team Meetings“.

The mediators are impartials, there to help the parties come to an agreement (mediation) and work collaboratively (FTM).  Both of these processes can be VERY worthwhile when a family is in a dispute with a district. However, both options are voluntary on the part of the school district AND parents.

For a mediation, the mediator always calls/contacts both parties for scheduling purposes. Featured image

In a few recent and disturbing cases, we have seen school districts ask for an FTM, apparently representing to the BSEA that the parents agreed to an FTM when in fact the parents have no idea what an FTM is or if they even have a choice to have an extra person (or two ) present.

Parents’s voices matter. They are supposed to have a voice in these decisions and should feel free to ask questions of a mediator at the BSEA, advocate, or attorney about what the two processes translate to in actual time and content.  A district can’t force a parent to agree to a Facilitated Team Meeting, cancel an already scheduled IEP meeting, or threaten not to hold a meeting without it being an FTM.  Those appear to be intimidation techniques.

Mediations and FTMs can be great tools; the BSEA employs some excellent mediators. Yet, these two processes are not for every family. Parents need to be asked if they agree to participate in a mediation or FTM before a district contacts the BSEA and speaks on behalf of the family.  It’s worthwhile for the (understandably) busy and over-worked, dedicated BSEA staff to follow-up requests for FTMS with parents, as they do with districts.

It’s a reasonable goal to have parents be equally informed members of the IEP team.  We aim to collaborate and find solutions which work for students with disabilities.  Open the lines of communication and always, as a parent, feel free to call the mediator assigned to your district with any questions.  They will answer them graciously.  Be an informed consumer- it’s ok to ask questions.

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Presume Competence. Always.

12193628_10153729559119294_3472513089276797932_nMy 16 year old son with autism was asked to present at the prestigious Harvard Medical School Child Neurology Conference today.  He did so with the support of a PowerPoint.  I was blown away.  He told the crowd what it feels like to have autism. My follow-up, what he dubbed “my mom’s long speech”, couldn’t compare to his works, his ability to regulate himself to speak in front of a room of strangers.  There were so many excellent physicians, including Ann Neumeyer and Andrew’s neurologist Kristen Lindgren who I both greatly admire, present.  Assume competence. Always. My son- the self-advocate. Awesome.

I spoke about our experiences with medical professionals and how hospitals and doctors can make the experience more autism-friendly.  We feel very fortunate that Andrew receives his care from MGH Hospital for Children from a stellar team of caring and incredibly smart folks.  For a kid with an IQ that tests at 52, I’d say he’s rocking the world.11229762_10206332904555576_4918847498284323052_n

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You are Not Alone

My job is supporting families.  One has been the most rewarding pieces of the work I do is connecting parents with one another.  It’s easy to feel alone in the special education journey.  What better to do than create an opportunity for your families to meet, the kids to play, and the parents to chat?

Today, I’m hosting an Open House for my little friends at SenseAbility Gym in Hopedale.  So many kids I work with have sensory processing disorder and needs.  Folks, support this hidden gem.


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Music, Autism, and Inclusion

IMG_0110My 16 year old son with autism has two loves in his life: teddy bears & music.  The music he likes is mostly on the radio, the same top 40 pop songs most kids like; it’s something he gets lost in.  He dances with his head, sometimes his body is so rigid, others’ eyes view it as awkwardly swaying.  With padded headphones, which don’t cause him sensory discomfort, and an iPod, on a walk or sitting in the car listening to the radio, he does his own version of musical head-banging. It makes him happy.

Over the years, we have included Andrew in nearly everything his siblings do.  No matter that he is now 5’10 and not that cute little boy I could once scoop up into my arms mid-supermarket meltdown and take home, he belongs in our community.  This year, he wanted to do something his sisters love, which is go to a concert.  I’m talking a big concert in a big outside amphitheater with singers singing songs he knows. We are fortunately able to sit in a box which provides some privacy from being knocked over by others dancing.

Diane White is a manager of the Xfinity Center/Mansfield,where we have season tickets.  For years, she has known Andrew by description through me.  She was excited that Andrew was finally coming to a show. So excited in fact that she invited him for a private visit the day before.

It was a simple act of kindness, taking a step to set him up for success and feel as included as everyone else there.

Andrew, our behavior therapist Katie, and I made our way down on a Friday, Andrew clutching his oldest and favorite teddy bear, a social story being previewed with him of what he would see.  Upon arrival outside the gates, he was greeted by Diane and her warm smile,  calm and kind words.

IMG_0054She took him everywhere, first where he would enter (a separate line) to the restaurant we would eat in; she asked what table he wanted to sit at.  She showed him the private restrooms he would use, walked him around the arena and showed him our seats, explaining how loud it would be the next day.  We reminded him that’s why he was bringing headphones and could ask for a break anytime.

She then showed him another space in one of the on-site offices. It ended up being where some of the police working details congregated at the end of the night. It was not fancy, but it was away from the noise, if needed. I suspect tt was a novel, creative accommodation for a venue that had been open for 35 years.  Andrew left excited and we listened to the music we would be seeing live the next day on the Bluetooth (thank you, playlists).

On concert day, we were led by Di to the table Andrew had selected in the restaurant. On it, she had placed a sign labeled “Andrew’s friends” & decorated with a teddy bear.  The venue staff (from hospitality to security) had all been prepped for Andrew’s visit. Being a worried mama, I didn’t want him to get lost and not be able to ask for help. As we were eating, Diane approached Andrew, who was sitting with his bear, and introduced him to her teddy bear “Ozzy”, a rock-and roll bear wearing a leather jacket and holding a guitar.  She gave it to him, saying Ozzy would be happier with him and his bears than at her house.

Andrew was joyful seeing singers whose songs he knew, dancing in his own way.  Taking it all in was hard for him, but there was a smile on his face.  Yes, there were walks and breaks needed.  Thanks to Diane, however, and the fact she took time out of her life to make him feel prepared, Andrew had the night of his life.

That’s what inclusion is- including a child with special needs with kindness and joy, not simply out of a sense of obligation.  “Ozzy” and Bear Collins have become good friends and have now gone to 2 more shows together.  Andrew has become the “mayor” of the venue and the staff treats him with dignity, respect, and kindness.  You can see him relax when someone says “hi Andrew”; these are people he feels safe with. His people. I suspect some learned as much from him as the joy he experiences, they see the strengths of people with autism, that there is nothing to be afraid of.  In fact, he brings smiles to their faces.

andrew2012-0023Music brings many of us joy.  It brings Andrew to a new place, his autism perhaps taking a break for an hour or so; he gets to do what every other kid does.  Thanks to Diane, who set him up for success, he not only can access live music, but have FUN.  Seeing him happy and truly included makes my heart smile.

Andrew’s experience at Live Nation‘s Xfinity Center was also posted on the Autism Speaks website:  https://www.autismspeaks.org/blog/2015/08/03/ties-bind-concert-manager-who-went-extra-mile

laurel press shot

Laurel Collins is a single mom of four teenagers who lives autism 24/7. In her “free time”, she works as a special education advocate & consultant, supporting other parents in ensuring their children receive the educational supports they need to access learning and make awesome progress.

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