Many professionals in the special education field chose their specialization because of a personal connection to the cause. Learning Ally Parent Support Specialist, dyslexia advocate, and attorney Norma Francullo says, “Often, lawyers who practice education law are doing it because their first client was their child.” After 18 years in public interest and corporate law, Norma switched her focus to special education after her twin children were diagnosed with dyslexia.
Norma’s daughter and son, now 16 years old, were identified as borderline and severely dyslexic, respectively. With children on both ends of the spectrum, Norma had to navigate multiple paths through the public education system to get them the help they needed. Starting out, she knew no more about special education than the average parent and had to start from the bottom, applying her professional skills to learn how to advocate for her children.
“I’ve found that advocating is part knowing a bit about the law, but mostly it’s learning about your child’s disability and how it can be remediated,” she says. “In the first two years I learned a lot, but I also made a lot of mistakes.” After becoming highly involved in the dyslexia advocacy community and learning as much as she could, Norma started a nonprofit organization called CHILD to help parents navigate the education system and learn from each other. In her role as a Learning Ally Parent Support Specialist, Norma has the same mission.
“I have a lot of experience working with other parents and want to help families before they get to a horrible place. That often involves figuring out next steps and pointing them in the right direction, giving advice on collaborating with school districts, informing them about policy and their rights, and providing support with other issues they may be confronting.”
Norma has four takeaways she aims to give parents during a call with her:
“Number one, I hope parents find validation by calling me. Often parents feel it’s obvious that there’s a problem and that their child needs help, but they’re made to feel like they’re spinning their wheels and not being heard by the people who are in a position to help. A lot of my calls are with parents who just need someone to talk to and reassure them that they’re not crazy and their problem is real.
“Secondly, I hope when parents call they realize there is a support system for them at Learning Ally.
“Third, I want them to know what their rights are.
“Lastly, I want them to understand that their child doesn’t only need educational support, but they likely need emotional support as well. I hope they walk away from the call with a roadmap—that they know where to go and how to do it, and that they can come back to us if they need help. They should feel confident to go with their gut and not be afraid to make mistakes, because the road will not be perfect.”
Norma and other Parent Support Specialists are available to offer guidance to any Learning Ally member. For a limited time, free consultations are also open to non-members, based on availability.
To schedule a 30-minute phone consultation with Norma or one of Learning Ally’s other Parent Support Specialists, visit www.LearningAlly.org/ParentConsult.– Lauren Holstein