In battle for disabled son, mother's weapon is the law

October 04, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Rose Ann Fischer, the mother of a 6-year-old child born with multiple disabilities, has waged many battles to get her son the services to which he is legally entitled.

Often, she has had to cite the Americans with Disabilities Act to a bureaucracy she has found intimidating and intractable.

"I think I know the ADA by heart," said the 38-year-old Sykesville mother of two.

Knowledge of the law also helps in her new job as Carroll County parent educator for the Parents' Place of Western Maryland. She is now doing battle for other parents or giving them the tools to fight on their own for their children's rights.

"Why should these children be separated from their friends in school?" she asked.

"Is this a world where only perfect people can live?"

Ms. Fischer has created her own "law book," a folder full of legislation that protects the rights of children with disabilities. She has highlighted frequently quoted passages.

"If someone gives me or another parent a hard time, I just open the book," she said.

Experience and a fierce persistence make an her ideal advocate for parents new to the intricacies of the system.

"Our job is to get resources to the parents, many of whom are not aware of the tremendous resources available to them," said Susan M. Kierson, director of the Walkersville-based center, which is part of the larger Parents' Place of Maryland.

The federally funded, cross-disability organization now has one parent educator in each of the five Western Maryland counties -- an area with about 12,000 of the 90,000 state families with children who need special education, Ms. Kierson said.

"The disabilities run a wide gamut, but the children all have some special needs that inhibits their education," Ms. Kierson said. "We provide parents with both support and education."

Special needs should not mean separate classes, Ms. Fischer said.

She has learned from her son Michael's experience that "the developmentally delayed can compensate" and advocates placement in the mainstream.

"Your child is a person who can be educated," she says to parents with disabled children.

"No matter who you are, there are resources for you. Ask for what you want for your child, and don't stop until you get it."

Her son Michael, deprived of oxygen at birth, has speech and motor impairment and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He a first-grade student at Piney Ridge Elementary, learning ABCs with friends from his neighborhood in Sykesville.

"I have fought hard to get my son where he is today," Ms. Fischer said. "I know I have a long road ahead of me, and the work won't end."

Ms. Fischer and the four other parent educators work with families and serve as advocates for the children.

In her job, which she began in March, Ms. Fischer counsels parents, refers them to appropriate agencies and, if they ask, will accompany them to meetings with education administrators.

"Parents have to know what is out there in the way of help for their child," she said. "Just knowing what to ask for can help."

Every time Ms. Fischer discusses her son with a teacher, an administrator, a doctor or a social worker, she carries her "bible," a large folder that contains every piece of information ever written about Michael since he was born with a heart defect, repaired when he was 3 months old.

"I tell parents documentation is important, and I teach them to keep a folder," said Ms. Fischer. "Keep every paper, every test, every recommendation."

Through her experiences with Michael, she has learned what to ask and how to get it, she said. She is still learning and calls the job a "wonderful teacher."

"What some learn in a year, we parent educators did in four months with about 25 workshops," she said.

With 10 to 15 phone calls daily from anxious parents, the job often stretches beyond the 20 hours a week for which she is paid.

"I don't mind putting in extra hours to make sure children get what they deserve," she said.

"I would probably do this as a volunteer, I like it so much. I enjoy helping a child to flourish in school."

Ms. Fischer is organizing a monthly series of seminars to help parents. The first takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday at Change Inc., 420 S. Bishop St., Westminster.

Sue Manos, family adviser for the Maryland Neighborhood Inclusion Project, and Sandy Jones, community organizer and editor for the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education, will be the guest speakers.

Free child care is available for disabled children.

Information: 549-5824.

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