Sylvia has been an advocate for her four children since the day they were born. Kirsten, now 28, had comprehension and speech delays; Paris, 23, has autism and ADHD; and both Sebastian, 18, and Aramiss, 16, have autism and specific learning disabilities.
Even though she had to fight to get her firstborn, Kristen, back into the special education system, Sylvia says that advocating on behalf of Paris was the most challenging. Paris did not speak until he was eight years old, and was expelled from pre-school. At the time, school officials told Sylvia that she should seek another school to enroll him in as they could not help "children like Paris". Teachers would also tell Sylvia and her husband that "Paris was on his way to jail." In elementary school Paris was sent home every day, adding up to a year of lost classroom time. Paris’ ADHD and autism caused his hyper behavior, but his school refused to provide any services to remedy these behaviors. Instead of trying to help Paris, his teachers taped him to the desk so that he could not move. After this, Sylvia and her husband lost all faith in the school's ability to simply keep her son safe. Sylvia’s husband spent two years serving as Paris’ aid in school, all the while working a full-time over-night job and getting by on two hours of sleep.
Once she found out about Learning Right's TIGER training program, things changed for Sylvia and her family. She learned more about her children’s rights and got Paris transferred to a non-public school, Frostig. Paris recently graduated from Frostig and is currently attending a community college. He is on his school’s swim team, and tutors other children in math. The boy who did not speak until he was eight is now on the board of trustees for his college. Thanks to the knowledge she acquired via TIGER, Sylvia’s two younger children, Sebastian and Aramiss, are also doing well today.
Says Sylvia: "TIGER puts things in perspective. It was very informative and very good for my kids. Through TIGER, I met other parents and we shared resources. Being able to share these resources may have saved me. Prior to TIGER, I did not have anyone to talk to. I had to call different agencies to get an answer. Some would have an advocate "hotline", but TIGER rounded things up for me. I had the knowledge, but I still had plenty of questions. When I was in TIGER, I was able to get all the questions answered. And, in addition, I learned new things. Now, when I go into an IEP (Individualized Education Program, a meeting where parents and the district decide on the services that a student needs), the tone changes when the school officials know I am a well-informed parent. I am a much more effective advocate now as I take the emotional component out of the advocacy and concentrate on what our rights are. I try to bring the school official to our level and let them know that this isn’t "my child's IEP", it’s everyone’s – it is yours as much as mine."