With a son diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and another with Asperger’s Syndrome, Teresa Welsh knows first-hand what it means to advocate for her children at their schools.
She’s been through IEP (Individual Education Plan) meetings, transitional services, training to become a special education advocate and more.
Through all that, she started giving out advice to other parents who felt confused or trapped by a lack of help in the schools or a lack of understanding about what’s out there.
Welsh created workshops and webinars to help like-minded parents.
But she felt more could be done.
So with the help of another parent in a similar situation, she created the newly launched Arizona Special Education Network, a nonprofit group designed to serve as a clearinghouse for parents seeking help for their children. The group is in the process of filing as a 501(c)(3) — federal status which would give them a tax identification code for those making donations.
“I want there to be awareness with parents that they need to get up to the plate and start batting. You cannot rely on schools to get everything. We’re going to have to go out to the community to get what we need” for children, Welsh says.
Welsh is passionate about her calling. She offers her classes for a minimal fee. As an advocate, she’s gone into IEP meetings with parents and assisted them in communicating with schools. She wants to try and keep parents from having to enter the mediation process when it comes to their children because it can be time consuming and financially burdensome.
“Parents need to take a more advocate role with their children’s education, working more collaboratively with the schools, not against them. I don’t believe in threatening with mediation, due process,” she says.
But there are times when parents may feel uncertain about what to do next, and that’s where Welsh said she wants to help.
“I’m talking to parents (and) they are so frustrated with where to go, what to do for their children. I’m finding a lot of kids who graduate out of high school with a disability are sitting at home on the couch. They feel they have no place to go at 21, 22, 23 (years old). It’s a big problem,” she said.
Welsh and co-founder Lauri Teschner, both East Valley residents, offer classes through parks and recreation programs in Chandler, with foster and adoption agencies, and through the Mesa Unified School District’s Parent University. They also offer one-on-one parent coaching.
“It’s education, advocacy and resources,” Teschner says of the nonprofit. “We’re not experts in everything, but what we are trying to do is connect people to the right resources.”
Teschner’s child, a high school graduate, has a learning disability.
“The process can be complex. There are a lot of acronyms in special education. There are laws people don’t fully understand. That’s what I struggled with, the complexity of the process and understanding what I needed to do to advocate for my child and get her what she needed.”
Teschner has a bachelor’s degree in human services, but also has worked as a job coach for people with learning disabilities.
The women are hoping they can attain grant funding with their nonprofit to make their classes more widely available.
“We’re trying to go out to organizations and make awareness of what we’re trying to do. There’s no funding right now … We’re hoping donations, fundraising and grants will drive this. This is my journey. As a parent with two disabled kids, people are coming up to me saying, ‘Where do I go? What do I do?’ You have to go to several people to get answers … I’m teaching people basic stuff like speech (language skills), sensory integration,” Welsh said.
To learn more, see azspecednetwork.org.
Michelle Reese covers education for the Tribune and blogs about motherhood and family issues at http://blogs.evtrib.com/evmoms.