And so we begin….
I attended a meeting today which was a stakeholder focus group entitled: “Community of Practice: Supporting Families of People with Disabilities Across the Lifespan in DC”. A lofty title, and a lofty goal. Imagine… families of children with disabilities being guided and supported throughout their child’s life, having questions answered, being supported when the challenges get overwhelming, having multiple options and explanations for the “next steps”, having a government and social services and education system that are one-step ahead of our family in this journey of special needs. Nirvana! Among the 6+ hours of discussion, one comment really hit home,
“For over 30 years, we have all been having these conversations and discussions about improvement and how to fix this broken system of special education, services and family support… when will it really change?”
Now, I have not been at the table for 30 years, but it is going on more than a decade since I entered the DC special education/special needs community, and I agree – in DC – this is such a common conversation by parents, teachers, and stakeholders. It was not surprising that so many of us in the room of 30+ community members today knew each other pretty well.
I have been pondering the idea of this blog for awhile – and I’ve decided to jump into the deep end and give it a try!
First the disclaimers: I am in no way an expert on DC special education, I’m not a certified teacher, I don’t have a masters in special education, this is not my planned career those many years ago when I started working.
- I am an active parent – I’m the case manager for two children with Autism, and have attended so many IEP and MDT meetings, I often find myself leading them (much to the consternation of the various Special Ed Coordinators at the table!)
- I get invited to, and attend, community forums, radio talk shows, DC Council hearings, proclamations, committees, work groups, conference calls, workshops, conferences – with topics such as Inclusion, Family Navigation, Special Education Improvement, Disability Awareness, Teaching Autism, and on and on. I find myself just as often at conference tables throughout the city, as I’m at my own family’s dinner table.
- I have served on state advisory panels, committees, task forces, development groups all on special education and disabilities.
- Special education has become my world and everything I work on or volunteer for revolves around it.
- I have often times been so desperate to help my children that I bang on any door, call any resource and do my diplomatic best to smile through it all; so I really know the NEED that is behind being able to understand and navigate DC special education.
Above all, I’m committed to being part of the positive solution and not just a “complaining” parent in the room. Over the last decade of my advocacy I’ve somehow created enough of a presence that I regularly was asked to talk to other parents, be a resource, connect with special ed teachers and over and over I found that everyone from parents to teachers to community members needed more help to navigate the special education landscape in DC.
People were looking to really understand:
- the difference between DCPS and OSSE,
- how special education worked in public charter schools,
- how to find an appropriate program/school in this city for a child with special needs,
- what “inclusion” meant in DC,
- what a parent could ask for under federal law,
- what does “quality” mean in DC special education,
- and on and on.
My hope for this DC Special Ed Insider blog is:
- to provide a forum to answer some of those unique (and not unique!) DC special education questions,
- to point parents (and teachers and anyone who is interested!) in the right direction for answers and solutions,
- to connect anyone who reads this with useful resources,
- to promote quality local events and activities,
- to highlight groups and organizations that work,
- to spotlight some of the real “solution” and “go-to” people in the DC special education community (if they will let me!)
- to keep readers abreast of the latest developments in DC special education
- to better understand the political and educational issues surrounding the morass of DC special education.
I imagine that I will make mistakes along the way – but I promise to correct them! I hope you will share with me your thoughts, questions, suggestions and resources to make this spot a place to support special education stakeholders and find that special education nirvana here in DC!