Looking For Free Special Education Advice Online? Don't.

I have worked in the education industry for 24+ years.  First, as a teacher then as an ABA Therapist.   For the past 18+ years, I have owned my own business and worked as a Special Needs Advocate and Educational Consultant.  Each of these positions have allowed me to learn new things while working on how to help children attain their goals and become successful.  For me, these last 18+ years have taught me many things (good and bad) along with meeting and working with families from the United States as well as internationally.  

Each day is a new experience.  Many things and situations that I witness draws on my years in the industry while including my education, skills and quite frankly common sense.  The reason I started my business was to educate and empower parents and families that have a child with special needs.  

Please read the following blog post and take it to heart.  If you decide to do nothing else, please read on.

Almost everyday, I am contacted by advocates and or attorneys looking for information to answer questions that they have. 

Some of The questions are:

1. How do I interpret test scores?

2. What are the parameters in regards to a parent signing an IEP?

3. Is my client entitled to transportation? 

4. I am working with a family but the child’s placement is wrong, what do I do?

5. My advocate is out of the country for the next two weeks and told me that they are not available by phone or email, what do I do?

And the list goes on and on. 

First of all, I cannot answer any these questions properly and accurately without knowing all of the information in regards to the child.  When I instruct these individuals that I would be more happy to help them but I need all the information that is pertinent to the case as well as any paperwork involved (this includes IEP, test scores, etc.).  I explain to them that they can book a call with me in order to go over their question (s) and thereby give them an answer to move forward with so they can represent their client to the best of their ability.

Although I am willing to help, I question why are these people representing anyone when clearly they are not qualified to do so. 

Additionally, who is hiring them and did the family not do their homework?

After doing some research, these are the very people that are on online forums trying to gain answers to their questions from other “advocates” and “attorneys.”

PLEASE, if you truly want to help your child, do not resort to going onto online forums in order to find out information regarding the law, support services, placement, what your rights are as a parent along with what your child’s rights are.  

Time and time again, individuals seek assistance from an online forum. 

These people answering you are not qualified at all. 

Any parent who has a special needs child and has turned into an advocate is not an advocate. 

Check their credentials.  Degree? Experience? Email address? (I have addressed this particular topic in a prior blog post).

Just this week, I had a parent call me whose child is currently in a boarding school which he pays for out of pocket but believes that it is not the right placement.  It is now January, where have you been?!  He contacted me to see if I could get his daughter’s placement changed.  In speaking with him, he disclosed that he had an “attorney” but she did not know what she was doing. 

So the bottom line is he spent money on someone that he thought could help and she was not qualified.  So not only is he exactly where he started but he is 5 months into the school year with no direction.

I explained my process to him and welcomed him to contact me if he desired to.  In closing with our conversation, I wished him the best because I knew that he was not going to be proactive in regards to the placement and he would be right back to where he is now come the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.  I knew this because he has been fighting this fight for the past 5 years.

Having a child who is special needs means time is of the essence. 

You have only a certain window of time that you need to get everything done in.  If you try and it is not working, then it is time to change gears and re-evaluate the situation and  what needs to be done differently and how you can accomplish that.  Not to keep repeating the same thing and hope against hope that things will change.

Going to an online forum is NEVER the answer. 

Asking total strangers about your particular situation and child does not make any sense.  No one can give you a definitive answer about your situation and your child without knowing every detail.  A blanket answer is not THE answer.  

The second instance this week, an “advocate” called me because she did not know how to interpret test scores that a family questioned her about.  In speaking to her, I instructed her that I would be more than happy to help but needed the information emailed to me so that I could look it over myself.  At that time, if I had everything I needed which I believed could warrant a comprehensive answer then she could book a call and I would be more than happy to cover it with her and explain how to actually interpret the results. 

Let me follow this up with, I looked her up - she had no experience, not a professional email or any degrees that would tell me she is actually educated in this area or any area.  In speaking with her, I heard her baby crying in the background.  You cannot be taken seriously and be a true professional when you are at home taking care of your baby while trying to help a family.

Unfortunately, I have found that many of these “advocates” represent themselves as such but are anything but.  They are on these online forums dishing out advice when they shouldn’t be doing anything of this nature. 

Being an advocate is NOT something you decide to do when your kids are in school for a few hours and you are playing funsies with people’s lives.

Third instance - I had an attorney contact me because he did not know how to address a problem that a family was having who HE was representing.  The situation was complicated as it involved several problems that had been ongoing but never resolved.  Again, my response was the same as I gave to the other individuals who contacted me this week. 

He wanted a quick answer for a quick fix. 

He explained that he did not have a lot of time because if he took too long to follow up with the family then he would look bad and the family would question his competency (my word, not his).  Clearly, he is not capable of representing this family and perhaps others.  I explained that I do not give “quick fix” answers.  When I answer something, it is after I have done my due diligence on the topic and/or situation.  He was not happy with my response and hung up on me.  Is this the type of individual you would want representing you?  He too, is on an online forum answering questions.  Clearly, I would question anything he has to say as he states he is a lawyer with a specialty in Special Education.

Many of these advocates and lawyers feel the need to be on these forums always giving advice because they feel as though their presence will somehow validate who they are.  

Bottom line:  the amount of time these individuals are on these forums is vast.  If you had a “real business” then you would not have time to spend on these forums continually because you would actually be running a business and have clients to genuinely help.

These three situations are only a sampling of individuals that I have heard from this week.  In total, 6 people contacted me this week for advice, help, interpretation of the law and test scores.  These are not the people you want to hire or even request answers from.  As a side note, I have seen some of these particular individuals on some online forums to answer questions.  Ironic as they do not know the answers because then they contact me to actually get the answers.

Please please please do not go to these online forums to get answers about your child because these people do not know your child, your family or your situation.

What should you do?

  1. Do yourself a favor - do your homework before hiring an advocate or attorney.  

  2. Cheaper is not usually better.  As the old adage goes - you get what you pay for. The gentleman who contacted me this week said he paid an attorney who he admitted was not that much money (any money spent is too much if you get lackluster or no results).  Unfortunately, he is out the money and nowhere closer to where he needs to be and what his daughter is in need of.

  3. On that same note as above - don’t be taken in by the “Free Consultation.”  When anyone advertises their services as “free” it de-values them.  When I see this verbiage, it tells me that this person will take anyone on as a client because offering a “free” anything will bring people in.  They also think “well, a little money is better than no money.”  I have heard this from individuals who have contacted me because they want to become a Special Needs Advocate but do not know how to go about it.  I correct them and explain that as the saying goes - “you get what you pay for.”  As a parent, you should look for quality over quantity.  Advocates are a dime a dozen but GREAT advocates are hard to come by and if someone falls into the latter category then they will not be on these online forums to give advice in order to boost themselves up.  Their work speaks volumes as to who they are and maybe they are not cheap but more times than not, they are worth every penny.

As a parent of a child with special needs, there are many questions that come up and situations that need to be addressed.  It is an ever changing time whereby you need to keep a level head, spend time weighing the negatives and positives along with what is right for your family and what is not.  At times it is overwhelming but when you need clarification and have questions, please seek out the assistance from individuals who genuinely have your child’s best interest at heart and will do the right thing.  These individuals will be by your side and willing to “fight” as hard for your child as you will - sometimes harder.  

For me personally, I started my business to help the underdog.  EVERYONE deserves the same chance to be great. 

As a parent, please do not seek out assistance from individuals who don’t have that passion for your child or family.  

I can honestly say that the individuals who are on these online forums have a passion - for themselves, not for your child.

 Need immediate insight into your child’s situation and how to address their current issues? Schedule your Open Opportunity Session for an expert analysis and strategic plan you can implement today.