Parents Supporting Parents with Children with Special Needs

Michigan Alliance for Families
Image courtesy of Michigan Alliance for Families.

The Michigan Alliance for Families is a reliable resource for parents of children with special needs.

Parents of children with special needs continue to find themselves in a difficult situation. Many have children with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that work most effectively in a brick-and-mortar school. Many schools in Washtenaw County are offering a remote start though, rendering many IEPs impossible to implement. 

Kanika Littleton, project director for the Michigan Alliance for Families, shares some valuable resources to help parents navigate this unprecedented school year, all of which are free.

A Positive Parent Alliance

The Michigan Alliance for Families (MAF) was formed in 2006 and is a grant-funded initiative of the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Special Education, and Michigan’s federal Parent-Training and Information Center.

The MAF offers support to anyone who requires special education services from birth to age 26. Every staff member is a parent or family member of someone with a disability, Their main mission is to empower families by helping them understand their rights, how to effectively communicate their child’s needs, and offer advice on how to help their children develop and learn.

The MAF’s core strength rests in its Regional Parent Mentors who live in their communities, providing one-on-one mentoring (both virtual and in-person) to help parents understand their rights and effectively communicate their children’s needs. Washtenaw County has a new Parent Mentor, Amy Sanderson, who will be starting September 1 and will begin scheduling meetings with families in October.

Michigan Alliance for Families
Image courtesy of Michigan Alliance for Families.

Contingency Learning Plans

Parents of children with special needs likely encountered what is called a Contingency Learning Plan (CLP) this past spring. This is a new document created out of need after schools across the nation were physically shut down. It details what special education services the school can offer for an individual currently with an IEP in a virtual learning setting.

Kanika Littleton explains that a CLP is not separate from an IEP but rather, written in alignment with an IEP. She stresses that school districts are not required, but encouraged, to use them. Parents don’t have to sign, but recourse is very limited. Littleton encourages open and honest communication between families and school districts, and to use mediation if needed.

The MAF website offers resources and webinars to better understand CLPs. You can contact them directly with questions as well.

Promoting Parent Advocacy

MAF encourages parents to educate themselves and be their own child’s advocate. Littleton explains that sometimes, a situation warrants an advocate outside the family.

Parents who have hired advocates to attend IEP meetings share how expensive this important service can be. For many families, paying for an advocate simply isn’t an option.

MAF contracts with advocates throughout the state to offer free services to families in need of an advocate. This is an invaluable resource and ensures all children are provided a 

Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), a right guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Understanding your Child’s Rights during COVID-19

Many parents don’t realize what rights they can reasonably request for their children. A local parent shared concerns over her child with Attention Deficit Disorder struggling to wear a mask and staying confined to the classroom for the day. When it was suggested she request frequent movement breaks in the hallway for him, she was surprised and encouraged by the suggestion.

Another local parent, whose daughter is over a year behind in reading, with a dyslexia diagnosis as well as ADHD, had to fight for the right to an IEP meeting over the summer to ensure her daughter’s needs are met before the start of school.

Many local parents are learning to be advocates for their children, with requests such as more one-on-one in-person support, reduced attendance for live virtual classroom sessions, and support for building screentime stamina.

As one parent put it, “I want my daughter to be back in the building, but until then, I will take a ‘wait and see’ approach in regards to tolerance for virtual learning.”

To support families as they learn to be self-advocates, the MAF has collected a variety of parent resources specific to COVID-19, such as tips for attending virtual IEP meetings and practical strategies for distance learning. All of these resources can be found at

For more information on all of MAF’s services, please visit their website, call the main office at 1-800-552-4821, email at, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.