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LA parent voice: How do you get the right support for your child with special needs?

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | February 28, 2018

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Every week, we sit down with Los Angeles parents to talk about their students, their schools, and what questions or suggestions they have for their school district. (See our previous interviews.)

Nearly 84,000 students in LA Unified are enrolled in some type of special education program or receive special support. But what the school has to offer may not be enough for a child to succeed in school to his or her potential.

Mary Lee, a mother from South Los Angeles whose son was diagnosed with ADHD at an early age and later with Asperger Syndrome, had to become her son’s advocate to demand the right support from his LA Unified school. She learned that if you don’t ask for it, your child won’t get what he needs.

“I had to be my son’s voice to demand what my kid needs at school. That is a second home, so the school should be doing what we’re set to be doing at home — teaching them to have a successful life. That’s the challenge, but we can make it happen,” she said.

Lee is concerned that many parents like her, from communities of color, don’t have the same access to information and resources in and outside of school to help their children with learning disabilities, so she shares her knowledge and expertise as a parent advocate mentor for the Special Needs Network, a California advocacy group for parents with children with special needs in underserved communities.

Her son is now attending college and continues to need her support, but she believes that knowing her rights, and knowing how to access the right resources and support made the difference for him. She wants the same opportunities for all children, and this is what she wanted to share with other parents.

What’s the first thing you should do when you think your child has a learning disability?

You need to have a team of doctors and professionals that understand your child’s needs. You need to find a pediatrician who is going to refer you to specialists or a family doctor you can trust, then you need to find a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a therapist; it may take you time to get that team together, go to two or three different places. At the beginning, you may have to quit your job because you must get those services going. Time is critical. The longer you take to support your child, the more problems may arise, the lower their self-esteem and the lower the chances of academic success. And we need a team of dedicated educators at the school site.

What is the biggest barrier for parents like you to get those services?

Most of us parents of color, we don’t have the time, the knowledge, and we believe we don’t have the resources because we can’t access them. Most of the time, schools are not connected to these services so we don’t know where to go. Our limited access and resources are a real killer for where we need to get with our kids, and so many of our parents really have to sacrifice to the point of loss of income, loss of housing, but that resilience piece to fight for our children is going to get us there.

How do you advocate for your child to receive the right support at school?

You have to use your parent power. You have to use your instinct because no one knows your child as you do and you know when things are not right. Some schools got it, having educators that work as partners, but in LAUSD it is sad to say that there are good educators with titles behind them but they lack knowledge. So you must have a plan and ask for the school counselors, meet with teachers, have a plan in mind, become the CEO of your child’s college team. College is possible for them, and to get there the school has to become a real player at the table. We need to make sure that school administrators put more investment in professionally developing educators to able to be sensitive that each child is unique and to create a learning environment where all children feel included.

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