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can be cost prohibitive for so many families. To get a better handle on the crucial role special education plays in our country’s public schools, I decided to widen the lens and get some historical perspective. While the first case of autism in the U.S. was diagnosed back in 1943, it took until the 1970s to launch awareness campaigns, and for the government to pass legislation to protect and support people with developmental disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally known as the Education of Handicapped Children Act, is the federal law that gives children with disabilities the right to a free appropriate education and related services that allow them to make adequate yearly progress in school. To a clueless parent like me, whose very typical child has only faced run-of-the-mill challenges in life, that snapshot of our country’s special education system sounds both reasonable and promising. I even discovered Louisiana’s Educational Rights of Children with Disabilities handbook, which informs parents of the support, services and protection they’re entitled to within their specific school districts. Cool, that sounds like parents can review a menu of available options, then sit down with the school each year to review their child’s progress, set some goals and map out a specifically designed plan. Easy-peasy, right? Not so fast. While each mom told me they’d had at least some positive experiences over the years, two of them admitted they’d

pulled their kids out of public school because they were, as one put it, “tired of the fight.” Mary Jacob, executive director of Families Helping Families of Greater New Orleans and Louisiana Parent Training and Information Center, was gracious enough to speak with me at length, and she made it clear that these parents are not alone “Our small staff received over 7,500 requests for support over the past year from parents who were dissatisfied with school issues. Inevitably, the school has one vision, parents have another. Our organization teaches parents their rights and how to advocate for their children. We tell them to never give up because they should have the same high expectations as they would for children without disabilities.” Families Helping Families is a network of ten resource centers located throughout Louisiana – including one in Covington on the Northshore. These non-profit centers support – and are staffed with – individuals with disabilities and the families of individuals with disabilities, and they offer a myriad of services and resources. Both SOAR and Families Helping Families offer advocacy support, but Mary suggests bringing a friend or family member along if parents just need emotional support, and only bringing an advocate when necessary, as access to trained advocates is limited, and their presence sometimes changes the dynamics of the meeting.

EDGE June | July 2021

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Profile for EDGE of the Lake

Edge of the Lake Magazine June | July 2021  

EDGE of the Lake gives a fresh edgy look at the parishes north of the lake and the unique people that make up our community. Expect the unex...

Edge of the Lake Magazine June | July 2021  

EDGE of the Lake gives a fresh edgy look at the parishes north of the lake and the unique people that make up our community. Expect the unex...

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