When our younger child received an autism diagnosis at 3, my husband and I had no premonition of what fighting for her education would require of her, or of us.
She’s now 9 — an enthusiastic and sweet-tempered kid who loves her teachers, classmates and school routines. Since kindergarten, she has been educated at our neighborhood public school, and I think often of what families like ours owe the activists who fought for disabled children to receive the education they deserve. As of the 2018-19 school year, 14 percent of public-school students nationwide received special-education services under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. That includes our child, whose learning is guided by an Individualized Education Program, or I.E.P., which tracks her learning and her needs, outlining the services her school is legally obligated to provide in order to give her what she’s entitled to: a free and appropriate public education, with the support she requires to learn, in the least restrictive environment possible.
Like so many parents, we see the details hammered out at an annual I.E.P. review — roughly three hours spent in a too-warm, windowless room updating the plan for another year.
Distance learning began in April. Our older child was soon able to find and complete her schoolwork with little oversight, but our third grader needed a parent available for every class and assignment.
My husband and I were privileged to be able to rearrange our work schedules, but we still found it impossible to replicate the support our child received at school. I fretted about her, about all of us, as we struggled to home-school through multiple crises. My grandmother died in April, my mother in May. For weeks, while I grieved and began to settle my mother’s affairs, my husband juggled his job with the major share of parenting and schooling.
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