Ask a Self-Advocate: What are your rights and how did you find out about them?

This post is part of MAC’s “Ask a Self-Advocate” blog series. This series was written by “JOSO*,” MAC’s 2017-2018 Young Adult Leaders Fellow, who is an autistic young man. The Young Adult Leaders Fellowship provides an opportunity for young adults aged 18-26 with intellectual disabilities and/or autism to learn the professional skills needed to advocate on behalf of other youth with disabilities. “Ask a Self-Advocate” was JOSO’s final project for the Fellowship and will include 13 posts published through the end of the year.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

My suggestions are based on my own experience. I realize that what worked for me may not work for everyone else.

I learned about my rights from working at Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC). I read many articles about different special education laws and learned about several cases in which laws were not being followed. I also shadowed my co-workers at MAC parent trainings and learned that parents and students often do not know their rights. This is problematic because understanding one’s rights enables parents and students to get what they need and want from school districts. Parents and students can learn about their rights by attending special education parent advisory council (SEPAC) meetings and/or reaching out to organizations like MAC.

For example, I learned that students are supposed to be invited to their Individual Education Program (IEP) team meetings when they turn 16 years old (14 in Massachusetts). At IEP meetings, they can provide input about their preferences and interests that will help determine what goals and objectives they will work on each school year. I was not invited to my IEP meetings until the middle of my senior year and did not have any input about my goals.

Also, according to the federal special education law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school districts are required to prepare students with disabilities that are between 16 and 22 (14 and 22 in Massachusetts) for life after high school, which may include attending college, getting a job or an internship, and/or living on their own. My mom and I did not know this was a law, so we were unable to ask for my entitled transition services during my freshman year. As a result, I received most of my transition services during my senior year of high school, which was very overwhelming.

In my next blog, I will talk about how I found out that I had a disability.

Click here to read the other posts in this series.