An Update from a Community Grant Recipient in Alaska!

Monday, August 5, 2013 View Comments Serena Selkin

In 2011, Autism Speaks awarded a grant to the Disability Law Center of Alaska to run a statewide program to train parents and guardians on how to best advocate for an appropriate IEP for their child. They did outreach to remote, rural populations in the state who would not normally have access to this training. The following is an update from the program!

What DLC did with the Autism Speaks funding was to create a hands-on training that didn’t just provide parents with a general understanding of their rights under the IDEA, but taught them to use the practical strategies that our advocates have used to successfully develop appropriate IEPs for children with autism. We included examples from our own practice to illustrate how the IDEA regulations can be uniquely applied to meeting service needs that are common among many children with ASD. We asked parents to share parts of their children’s IEPs and worked out together how a parent could prove to an IEP team that changes were needed. When parents in the training learned useful tactics on how and when to use data from expert reports, scientific research, quotes from law, personal persuasion and outside advocates they not only felt empowered, but also educated in a process that requires that they prove what they intuitively know about their own children’s strengths and needs at school.

Many Alaskans live in remote villages which are only accessible by plane or boat. Most families in villages rely on their local school as the only source of information about their rights to IEP services for their children, and very few parents are the active, informed IEP team members that Congress intended as the guardians of the IEP development process. The Autism Speaks funding allowed DLC to fly parents of children with ASD from remote villages to several “hub” communities to attend the trainings, and to give them the tools to participate fully in the IEP process. As more parents in small communities become informed of the active role that the IDEA guarantees and facilitates for them, their communities become more accessible for other children with disabilities. As parents’ expectations change, so does the village culture change. Ultimately the institutions that serve them must change. As a direct result of the Autism Speaks funding more children with ASD throughout Alaska will have educational programs that are appropriate for their needs and progress.

The importance, as well as the success of the trainings is best reflected in the comments from the parents: "As a parent of a child with autism, I knew very little about resources, IEP development and the rights of my child to gain the best educational support. This seminar has provided INVALUABLE information to help my family. Thank you!" "I was overwhelmed with trying to help my 8 year old grandson with autism. I now have a plan for how to get an effective IEP and behavior support thanks to this class." "I have three special needs children at home. I was blown away by how helpful this class was."

Thank you Autism Speaks for the opportunity to offer these trainings to benefit children on the Frontier!