I am a parent, just like you. And that’s why it makes me so elated when I am able to prevail for a parent and their child. When I win what a child needs to learn and be successful in school, I know that I am changing that child’s future by ensuring they will receive the education they need to have half a chance of graduating high school, gaining competitive employment, attending secondary education, and living an independent life. 

It is a common belief that advocates and attorneys should stay neutral and unattached to the outcome of the cases they take on for their clients. Most advocates and definitely attorneys hold this belief.  But because I am also a parent of a neurodiverse child, I take it very personally and I am VERY motivated to win. I don’t have the attitude that promotes the belief that “some cases we win and some cases we lose” and that’s just the way it goes in the special education system. When a parent hires me to win for their child, I do everything in my power to make that happen. 

Additionally, I have a big problem with the broken special education system and the fact that it is not set up to serve our kids but to serve school districts across the nation. I am appalled with how the system is stacked against parents because if a parent doesn’t know special education law, chances are, their child’s needs won’t be met. If a student is lucky enough to be found eligible for an IEP, the team will offer minimal services that may or may not be implemented properly. 

I take issue with the fact that since Covid, the system has gotten even worse as we watch the deterioration of any kind of ethics or moral code in school district staff. This becomes more and more evident as I sit in scores of IEP meetings observing Program Specialists who are truly programmed like robots to spew out memorized denial statements, having no ability to consider the child and their future. Trying to have an intelligent discussion to argue my client’s position by using data and real facts is like talking to AI. School district staff show no ability to use critical thinking or see past their loyalty to the school district that provides their paycheck. 

Over the past 25 years after attending thousands of IEP meetings for my clients, I always thought the system couldn’t get any worse. But low and behold, here we are today.

In today’s Episode #6 of Parent Prevails, I’m going to talk about a student in Middle School who attends a Charter School in San Diego County. This young lady was found eligible for an IEP under OHI (Other Heath Impairment) for ADHD. She was diagnosed with Autism by several doctors. However, the district refused to find her eligible under Autism. Her IQ test scores reflect she falls in the above-average range. She is placed in general education classes with SAI pullout and does very well in gen ed. She struggles with social skills and displays heavy masking to hide her areas of need, which is a very common occurrence for girls on the spectrum. She needs intervention to address her pragmatic deficits with an increase in Speech and Language services. 

Because teachers didn’t acknowledge her autism, she wasn’t receiving the support she needed and would shut down and refuse to complete academic tasks and resisted going to school because it was a very uncomfortable experience for her. 

When the parent hired me, she wanted her daughter’s eligibility changed to Autism and for the school to acknowledge she also has pragmatic deficits. She was found eligible for CAPD (Central Auditory Processing Deficit), which causes her to work very slowly and she requires directions repeated and broken down and academic tasks chunked into smaller steps. She also was in need of a Speech Pathologist who was willing to address her pragmatic deficits as a result of Autism. 

The first thing I did was request a Psychoeducational IEE from a very reputable IEE provider who specializes in Autism. When choosing an IEE provider, it is important to make sure they are willing to conduct a comprehensive and diagnostic assessment in all areas of the child’s suspected disabilities. 

The IEE results found her eligible for not only Autism but also Specific Learning Disability in Math. The assessment recommended specific and measurable goals and accommodations to meet all areas of need in pragmatics, task completion, Math, social skills, and behavior. The IEE also recommended an Assistive Technology assessment.

During the IEP meeting, the IEP team fought hard against the Autism and Specific Learning Disability eligibility. For two and a half hours, we argued with the IEP team to acknowledge the IEE data and test results. The Program Specialist used every tactic she could to derail the conversation, waste time by discussing small issues for longer than needed, and tried her best to prove the assessment results were invalid. 

This is why it is so very important to choose an IEE provider who is willing to work with you to disagree with district staff and not be afraid to defend the IEE assessment results and recommendations. 

In the end, we were successful in having the student’s IEP eligibility changed from OHI to Autism (Primary) and SLD (Secondary). We also were successful in having the team add many additional goals in the areas of Math, pragmatics and social skills, work completion, and behavior. The district also agreed to conduct an Assistive Technology Assessment.  

The parent plans to move her daughter from the Charter School back to her home school for high school. Charter Schools can lack special education supports and services and lean toward serving high-achieving students with academic strengths rather than students who are in need of special education. It has been my experience over 25 years of advocacy, that there is a strong tendency for Charter Schools to believe that their obligation to adhere to IDEA somehow doesn’t apply to them because they are a “Charter School”.  

With the wins we achieved, this student is set up to have the IEP she requires to meet her needs in a public high school. It is our hope that she will have a much better experience next year with an IEP that is accurate and identifies her disabilities and deficit areas. 

The parent has chosen to forgo a problematic Transition meeting because she feels that if she agrees to attend a Transition meeting facilitated by the Charter school team, it opens the door to having the Charter IEP team give the incoming high school team an incorrect impression of her and her daughter’s needs.  The parent has met with the high school administrator to discuss her daughter’s needs as documented in the current IEP, which was a very successful and productive meeting. 

We are pleased to say that the new high school team is ready and willing to welcome this student for her freshman year. It is our hope that the current IEP will be implemented with fidelity and that this student will thrive throughout her high school years. 

Cheering you on always! 

Valerie Aprahamian

P.S. If you haven’t joined our Private Special Education Parent Empowerment Facebook Group yet, you should check it out here.

Here’s what parents are saying about the group:

“You and your page have been so inspirational, empowering, and educating. I truly appreciate the ability to ask and get responses from you and all the members here! Thank you so much, Valerie!” ~Simone

“Your post and responses have helped support and educate me. I thank you for that. I have two children with disabilities and admire the wisdom you provide. You have a very special mission and have touched a lot of lives.” ~Jodi

Valerie Aprahamian is a special education advocate, IEP strategist, and speaker. She speaks on behalf of parents to protect the rights of neurodiverse children to receive the supports they need in public school.


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