Earlier this month a close relative graduated from high school. Graduation is an important rite of passage for any teenager, but for him it was an especially important event. He has Asperger's disorder, and the past 12 years have not been filled with the fond memories many graduates recall at commencement. Instead, he has endured years of distress and anxiety as he has struggled with his disability, sometimes with assistance from sympathetic teachers, sometimes without much support from ignorant instructors. But he persevered to the end, with a healthy GPA to boot.
His parents were anticipating his graduation for a long time. During the past 12 years they've had uncounted meetings with principals, teachers, and counselors. One educator wanted him to be homeschooled, but his parents and mental health providers made sure he remained in the classroom so he could learn the social skills vital for success after graduation.
His parents certainly worked hard to make sure their son had a positive educational experience, but at least they didn't have to take their case before the Supreme Court. In Parma, Ohio, the parents of a boy with autism did not think the school district's plan for their son was adequate, so they sued the school district—without the assistance of a lawyer. The district argued that the parents could serve as their child's lawyers only in administrative hearings, not in subsequent litigation in federal courts. Their case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in May that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act gives parents the right to represent their children throughout disputes over education plans.1
Both of these cases demonstrate how important it is for parents to be strong advocates for their children with behavioral health issues. In fact, parents could be a valuable addition to care teams at community mental health centers, sharing their experiences with other families and showing that there is reason for hope. Lori Ashcraft, William A. Anthony, and Ellen Dayan explore the possibilities of such “parent partners” on page 10. It's an idea worth considering, as parents bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the table. Some even have Supreme Court battles under their belt.
Douglas J. Edwards, Editor-in-Chief
- Auster E. High court backs family of autistic boy. The Plain Dealer (Cleveland). May 22, 2007.