In episode 26 of the Speech and Language Kids Podcast, Carrie Clark interviews speech-language pathologist Lara Wakefield, PhD, CCC-SLP about the parent rights in the IEP process.  Lara discusses what rights you have as a parent of a child with a special need or disability.

Who is Lara Wakefield?

Lara Wakefield is a speech-language pathologist and parent advocate in Columbia, Missouri where she has a private practice providing parent advocacy and speech therapy services to local families.  Lara has 19 years of experience in various speech and language therapy settings and has been a parent advocate for 7 years.  Lara’s areas of interest and research include collaborative and inclusive approaches in the schools, parent advocacy and education of IDEA, FERPA, and LRE, as well as evidence-based practice related to the selection and use of smartphone and tablet apps.

What is a Parent Advocate?

  • Someone to help parents advocate and navigate the world of having a child with special needs
  • Someone to help with medical issues, insurance, juvenile justice system, and school system
  • Currently no certification for parent advocates but there are training programs through COPAA:

Do I Need a Parent Advocate?

  • Not all parents of children with special needs have parent advocates
  • Lara currently sees a growing need for parent advocates because the education laws are not written in parent-friendly ways and there are more special needs students now than ever before
  • Parents often don’t understand the jargon that schools are using and this can cause communication breakdowns
  • Schools don’t always understand the complexities of the diagnoses walking in their doors
  • Parent Advocates can be translators to improve communication between schools and parents

What Laws Protect Families of Children with Special Needs?

  • Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA)
  • American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Outline the steps required
    • Team must determine eligibility
    • IEP or 504 plan must be in place
  • The law and the states lay out who qualifies and who doesn’t.  The schools have to follow what the law says.

What Rights to Families Have When Their Child Has a Disability:

  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): Children should receive their education with their typically-developing peers as much as is possible and practical.  They should also access the general education curriculum as much as possible.
  • Evidence-Based Practices (EBP): Children should be provided therapies that are based on what the research says are the best practices.

What if the School Says the Child Doesn’t Qualify?

  • Still protected under IDEA
  • Parents have 4 options if they disagree with the diagnostic information:
    • Mediation with a lawyer provided by the state: Aimed at peaceful resolution (the best possible outcome)
    • File Child Complaint to the state and the state would investigate the school to see if they are violating the law
    • File for Due Process: Involves a court hearing where a ruling is handed down about if the school was wrong.  Run by the state (not in the formal courts)
    • Can ask for independent evaluation by someone outside of the school.  Team reconsiders eligibility based on the new information

How Do Response to Intervention (RTI) Programs Work?

  • Therapists provide therapies to children in the regular education setting without using the full IEP evaluation
  • These children should be protected by ADA Section 504

How Can Parents Find All of Their Rights?

Go to state’s department websites and click on parents’ section on special education.  Look for the compliance manual and standards indicator.  You can also look for youtube and web information.  Another good website is “Wrightslaw”

Steps if You Feel Your Rights Are Being Violated:

  • Talk to the team first
  • Bring in principle and district administrator if possible
  • If that doesn’t work, find an advocate to assist you in knowing your options

What is Due Process?

  • A parent’s rights to go through mediation and work out the problem or have the school investigated.
  • A neutral entity (the state department) comes in to mediate or investigate.  These entities may not be entirely neutral though so advocates are helpful.
  • This should not be your first step.  Other steps should be taken to find peaceful resolution first.  Most cases don’t need to go all the way to due process.

How To Promote a Positive Working Relationship with your Child’s IEP Team:

  • Document, document, document
  • Put everything into writing if possible (email is preferable)
  • If you have face-to-face or phone conversations, follow up with an email that summarizes what was discussed.
  • Ask for clarification constantly.  Say “Ok, let me make sure I got that correct, I heard you say…”.  Ask the IEP team any time you don’t understand what they’re talking about.

How To Find an Advocate:

Wright’s Law:

COPAA Website:

How to Find Info About Lara Wakefield



More Resources for Speech-Language Pathologists:

Looking for more therapy ideas and resources to help you provide the BEST services to your clients?  Join us in The SLP Solution, our membership program for speech-language professionals!  Inside the membership, you’ll find:

  • Step-By-Step Guides for teaching a variety of speech/language/communication skills
  • Pre-Made Worksheets and Therapy Activities for hundreds of different topics
  • Training Videos for dealing with difficult disorders or problems
  • Answers to Your Questions in our exclusive SLP community
  • Tools and Resources to help you with your paperwork and admin tasks
  • Continuing Education through our monthly webinars and webinar recordings

To join us in the full SLP Solution, or to snag a free membership, click on the button below!