What does it mean to “level the playing field” for parents?
That’s a question Amanda Morin thinks about a lot. She’s a former teacher and specialist, and a mom to children with learning and thinking differences.
Amanda’s book — The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education — is a step-by-step manual for parents about the process. We talked to Amanda about her book.
Why did you write this book?
Amanda: When we talk about special education services for kids, the phrase “level the playing field” often comes up. What that means is we’re trying to put kids with learning and thinking differences on an equal footing with their peers. We do that by supporting them and giving them services.
Parents need support too. I wrote this book to level the playing field for parents. For many, trying to work with schools can feel like a struggle. To some degree, I think that’s because there’s an inequality at play. It’s not intentional, but it does exist. Parents are learning about special education, often for the first time. There’s a learning curve.
The goal of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education is to make the process easier.
Can you give us an example of a tip you give parents in your book?
There are so many! But here’s one that I think most parents don’t think about.
When you’re speaking with a school, it can be useful to “mirror the language of the law.” That means you frame your situation using phrases from the law.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re in a meeting with the school. They offer your child a reading program you disagree with. Instead of saying you disagree because it’s not the “best program,” it’s often better to say you don’t think it’s an “appropriate program.” That mirrors the legal right your child has to a free appropriate public education, not necessarily the “best” education.
You’ve said that you hope this book can help ease the tension between schools and parents over special education. Can you explain why?
One of the best and most uncomfortable compliments I’ve gotten about this book is that I’m creating an “army” of informed parents, and schools had better watch out.
First of all, I love the idea that I’m helping to inform parents. But I don’t think having an “us vs. them” mentality benefits kids. I’ve been both “us” and “them” at the table, and I’ve always cared deeply about making sure the child has what he needs to learn.
When we reduce things to “us vs. them,” it creates a situation in which the assumption is that one side or the other is the only one that cares about the child. And that’s rarely true.
I’m not naïve enough to think that every disagreement can be solved by collaboration. However, I do think aiming for mutual respect makes a big difference in helping everybody keep the end goal — the child — in mind.