My name is Theresa Sester. This is the story of my road to becoming an advocate. I have 3 children whose ages range between 10 and 20. When my oldest started school, almost immediately, he struggled. Being a young mother and knowing NOTHING about special education or the 504 rights he had, I made every mistake in the book advocating for him. The district where we resided at the time treated my son with disdain, as if, he was a "throw away child". Back then, I lacked the knowledge about the developmental stages, normal social/emotional milestones, behavior, and where my child should have been academically functioning for his age. It was all so overwhelming. My son's special needs made it impossible to work outside of the home and employers just did not understand the world my family was living in. Not to mention, there were no after-school programs equipped to supervise him. During this time, society was not rallying support for disabled children and NO ONE in my immediate community had ever heard the term Autism or Aspergers. It was extremely isolating.
In those days, if you didn't feel your child was getting a decent public education, school districts would gladly show you the door and advise that there are private schools for your choosing. You have to imagine, this was taking place before the internet, Google, Facebook etc... I didn't have a vast collection of information at my fingertips. Thankfully, what I did have was the determination and tenacity to get up daily and pour through the phone book looking for resources. I called every governmental agency, public library, pediatrician and psychiatrist for help. I read every book I could find. I was like a bull dog that would not be deterred. I am positive I drove a few people nuts along the way!
The first person to ever go above and beyond by offering me guidance was a public school teacher. I remember the day as if it were yesterday. Although she was not even my son's teacher, she had been witnessing mistreatment and unprofessional behavior for years. She asked to speak to me and started the conversation with "I am very concerned" and then "you didn't hear this from me, BUT..." In retrospect, she offered me the most basic of information. However, it was enough to open my eyes to another world. It was a world with acronyms and specific vocabulary that I had never heard before. It was as if special education had a whole language of its own. Recently, in a due process hearing, one of my favorite judges explained that "there is an art of language" related to special education. Some terms have a different meanings relating to those in the special education community rather than those outside. What he meant by that is, you cannot always look at the actual Webster's definition of a word or phrase to truly apply it properly. In the early years, after spending hours in school meetings' taking notes I would go home and devote more hours to looking up words so that I would fully understand their special education meaning. It was a daunting task, but one I am so thankful I pursued.
Looking back and having had the privilege to work with some other compassionate educators, I think this teacher realized that if I took the information she was willing to offer and became more informed, I could advocate for my son in the best possible way. I often think about her when parents come to my office downhearted about an ineffective teacher and I gladly share my story. You see, educators are no different from any other professionals. You have some really fantastic ones and then some that are just not. While educating your children, you will experience both good and bad. There is no perfect school district, administrator or teacher. There are, however, some that WILL rise to the occasion. Along the way I have met a few other key people who have guided/mentored me and the rest is history.
Although my son was my initial inspiration, now he moves ahead with his adult life, a job, a car, and a place of his own. I know that I have the ability to be able to help more people. My story will continue with every child and family that I am able to help.
If you have a child between the age of 3-22 and you need guidance ensuring your child receives an appropriate education or secondary transition services. Call me! I have over 10 years of extensive research, education and experience in this complex and often confusing world of special education. It doesn't have to be a struggle. We can do it together.
My mission is simple, to provide special education advocacy services in an environment that fosters a collaborative working relationship between parents, other advocates, educators and service providers. We will form an alliance that works toward the benefit of any disabled child between the ages of 3-22.
To save parents money by offering training/coaching regarding IEPs by building their knowledge within the special education arena so that they can better advocate for their child's needs in the future without the expense of hiring an advocate for every IEP meeting.
To help families with young adults set up a bright and productive future. Help formulate transition plans and services are crucial when assisting youth with disabilities to prepare for adult life. Comprehensive transition planning needs to address several domains, including education, employment, personal responsibility, relationships, home and family, leisure pursuits, community involvement, and physical and emotional health.
I am fortunate because I have found my life's work. I take great pride in what I do and enjoy a unique sense of accomplishment with each family and child I assist. I also recognize that not all parents have been as fortunate as I have been. AOTS is my opportunity to help others in our community by sharing those resources and my experiences. Call me today to discuss your concerns. I am here to help.