Saturday, May 2, 2009

Owen's Due Process Legal Fund

A friend of mine from college, Arran McWhirter, is at the end of a due process case against the local school district to ensure that his son Owen, who was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder in April 2008, receives that which the schools are required to provide him by law -- a Free and Appropriate Public Education.

They have incurred substantial legal fees -- over $150,000. They've already paid nearly $50,000 of that but have a long way to go. They are in the process of taking out loans but it still won't be enough -- they need your help. They have set the amount here to be raised on their site at $10,000-- it is a minimum amount that they hope is attainable by May 17th, 2009. Still, they'd like to raise as much as they can up to $150,000.

Owen's Due Process Legal Fund

The Administrative Judge will make a ruling on the case on May 28th. If they are the prevailing party they may be able to recover some of the legal costs. If they are to prevail and do not need the all of the money raised, whatever is left will be donated to Autism Speaks' advocacy program.

This is from Arran:

When your child is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and you start to read and do research about what s/he needs, one of the first things you learn is just how very important early intervention is to the management/treatment of autism. And not just early intervention, but intense early intervention. When we left Argentina, we did so because we couldn’t get Owen the early intervention services that everyone was telling us were so important for him. We returned to the US because, we, like every other parent of a special needs child, thought that those services would be available. They are available, at an exorbitant cost. And while we were naive to think that the State of North Carolina would provide most of the services, that the federal government under the IDEA act, had provided children like Owen the right to an education. We were wrong.

The short of our story (which is not a unique story by any means) is that while Owen was found eligible for services under his diagnosis of autism and and IEP was written, he was only offered 3 hours of services a week — a far cry from the intense early intervention that researchers, doctors and educators say he needs. We are positive that Owen will be able to enter a typical kindergarten class with his peers when the time comes but in order to get him ready he needs intervention. He’s getting what he needs, of course, because we have no choice but to provide it to him privately. What else are we supposed to do?

When people find out that we hired a lawyer to fight this they think we are crazy. It’s not a fight we can win, I’m told. It’s not a system that can be easily changed, I hear people say. I listen, and I nod, I tell them that I know, I understand, I get it, I do. But, what else am I supposed to do? What else can I do but fight. I fight for my son, for his rights. Isn’t that my job? This is not an easy battle, but neither is the fight against autism. It’s just unfair that you have to do both at the same time.

I know you don't know Arran, but he's a good person who's just trying to do what's best for his son. If there's any way you can help, even if it's just to forward this message along or post it on your own blog, it'd mean a lot to me and his family.

Thank you.


Janna Qualman said...

Good for Arran! Sometimes you must ignore what others say, and he's doing what he should.

Best to the family.

spyscribbler said...

That is so awesome. And it won't just help his son; it'll help all the sons and daughters of other parents, later.

I'm crossing my fingers on this one, for sure!

Melanie Avila said...

Janna, it makes me so sad to hear stories like this. I hope change happens soon.

Melanie Avila said...

Spy, I hope you're right. I'm curious if this has gained any media attention in his local area.

Lauren said...

That's great that he is standing up. It does take a lot to change the system, but someone needs to be the first to step up and say "something isn't right." While I live in Chicago, I'm from the Indianapolis Area and they have a wonderful program for Early Childhood Intervention Call First Steps.

My niece (who I call Blondie Girl in blog land) had some developmental delays both emotionally and socially and got some great, government-provided help when she was 3-5. It makes sense for the school district to do this because by the time she was school aged, she's been with mainstreamed 100% of the time. The couple of years early intervention work will end up saving the school system lots of money because instead of having her in special classes through high school she is done!

It's good that Arran is able to afford this help for his son, but many other parents are unable to. If the schools would spend a little more unfront time, not only would it benefit the child, but they'd save money long term. A win-win.

I wish Arran all the best luck and I'll look into what we can help with. As I said, other states do have services. Hopefully, because of Arran's dedication, his state can get with the program and other families besides just his will benefit!

Melanie Avila said...

Lauren, I'm so glad your niece was able to to get the help she needed WHEN she needed it. I don't know a lot about autism, but I have learned that the sooner you start treatment/therapy, the better off the child is. I hope Arran can make a change in the system.

Robin said...

It is incredibly short sighted for the state not to give these kids intensive early intervention services. It should be pure logic, that if the kids grow up to be self sufficient citizens, it will ultimately save money. This system sucks. I'm so frustrated for the poor families.

Anonymous said...

I could have written Arran's post, except that instead of legal fees, we paid the $$ for a specialized treatment center. We have no retirement, no savings, credit card debt for tuition, and are on an incredibly tight budget despite us both being professionals. The Obama administration is the first glimmer of hope we've had about change, but I am dejected and not very hopeful it will happen before our kids get out of school.

Melanie Avila said...

Robin, you would think they'd see it that way...

Melanie Avila said...

Aerin, I'm sorry. I've picked up bits and pieces from your blog but didn't realize the full extent of it.

I know it's tough for one person to make a difference, but I hope if enough try, that things will change. And hopefully while they'll still benefit you and your family.