Rosemeri Linares embraced the challenges and the need for knowledge when she found out her son Adrian was on the spectrum. “Adrian was diagnosed with autism a little before he turned two. I had to quickly learn all the things that come with having a child with a disability,” she recalled. “I had no idea prior to getting the diagnosis all the things that come with that – evaluations, doctors’ visits, IEP meetings. You must get familiar with them immediately.”
Navigating the breadth of disability services, especially in the school system, can be overwhelming for any parent or guardian. Katherine (Kate) Hoy, LMSW, AHRC New York City’s Director of Advocacy Services, knows this fact well and has dedicated her career to helping families find the quality supports to which they are legally entitled.
“We provide one-on-one support for parents and professionals to help them understand their rights in special education in NYC, and to help them participate meaningfully and effectively in their child’s IEP meetings,” Hoy explained.
“Parents are by law equal members but too often, on purpose or inadvertently, they are not fully informed participants. We see that when they are not able to participate fully, communication breaks down and ultimately it impacts the child. We’ve seen outcomes improve exponentially when parents know their rights and act on them.”
Adrian had found some success at the first schools he attended. Over time, however, his mother felt that he was beginning to stagnate and not receiving the instruction he needed to achieve his goals.
“I know how well Adrian can do if he has everything in place he needs to succeed. He is a visual learner and needs a lot of visual supports in place. The school just wasn’t meeting any of those needs. They weren’t tailoring to the needs of a child with autism – the kids have other disabilities and they are all grouped together.”
“From age 3-21, a child’s primary service location is school. It’s so critical to get their services right as soon as possible,” Hoy said.
Many Facets to Advocacy
Linares was introduced to AHRC NYC’s Educational Advocacy through the previous director, Paul Hutchinson, in 2016. She needed guidance on Adrian’s entry into the school system for students with disabilities.
“That was a key point, getting Adrian that non-public school placement,” she said. “Paul sent me places I can go to. He referred me to where they were doing a study for autism, and Adrian got a thorough, extensive evaluation, and got that for free. I thank Paul a lot for that.”
In summer 2020, Linares reached out to AHRC NYC again. “I filled Kate in on my concerns. She went over with me some of the main points that we needed to discuss. We were going to have an IEP, and to request change of placement we needed to have new evaluations,” she recalled. Hoy guided her through the additional steps of drafting letters, scheduling meetings, and making the appropriate contacts in a timely fashion.
“We are infinite solution finders,” Hoy said. “I can’t guarantee I will find something, but I can promise I will not abandon you. We can prepare as much as possible and go from there. That is something that families really value.”
Adrian is now attending Learning Spring, a school specifically for children on spectrum. “He is doing amazing,” his mother beamed. “He will be starting hybrid sessions soon, but even with remote I hear him talking and all the teachers are all so wonderful. It’s a different feel. He loves the school.”
“I would recommend AHRC NYC’s advocacy, because you need someone that gets everything going on right now. I would not be able to know this information on my own. Get someone to help you navigate through this. You don’t want to do this alone.”