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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Chris Eisenberg

Gordon: When did you attend Georgetown University Law Center, what was your favorite class, and why was that class your favorite.

Chris: I went to Georgetown University Law Center from 1986-1989. My favorite class was my Contracts class in my first year of law school. The professor was Professor Richard A. Gordon who was apparently the model for the John Houseman’s famous law school professor in PAPER CHASE. By the way, if you watch PAPER CHASE with a group of law students, it plays like a horror movie rather than the comedy/drama that it actually is. Professor Gordon was a very intimidating character who very much believed in the Socratic method of teaching. In my later years at the school, I was able to socialize with him and found to him to be just as fascinating outside of class as in the class.


Gordon: Please share with our readers some information about your work on the Journal of Legal Ethics at Georgetown.


Chris: Our tag line was “Legal Ethics, it’s not an oxymoron.” Many law students end up applying to work on a law journal for their second and third year of law school. I followed that same path.


Gordon: You are currently Special Education Attorney at The Law Office Of Chris Eisenberg. What are your primary responsibilities?


Chris: I am a special education attorney who represents families of children with disabilities. So my responsibilities range from attending IEPs with parents who simply want a knowledgeable person there to monitor and oversee the IEP to filing what is called a due process complaint against a school district when the school district has not provided a Free Appropriate Public Education to a child with disabilities. The complaints can range from services not being provided to inadequate IEPs to placement, which can be placing a child anywhere from a private school to a non-public school or even a residential treatment center. Though I do only practice special education law, I would consider myself a “jack of all trades” within special education law.


Gordon: When was your son diagnosed with autism? What initial concerns did you have, and how were they addressed?


Chris: Our pediatrician alerted us to the possibility that he had autism at his checkup when he turned 2. We immediately contacted the Regional Center at that time. But we did not have an official diagnosis for several months. I have to say that it was terrifying. I did not know whether he would be able to go to high school or college must less be able to live on his own. We were very fortunate that we had a great team of people working with him from a very early age and we took advantage of all the services offered. From the age of two to about seven, it was like having a second job. I spent about 30 hours a week taking him to various therapies on a weekly basis. The good news for us is that our son thrived under the therapies and by the time has was 7, he no longer needed an aide at school. And by the time he  was 12, we went from an IEP to a 504 plan. He is now a 20 year old at the University of Michigan, and though he still struggles with executive function issues, there is no doubt he can do whatever he wants to do with his life.


I would also add that I like to say that my son was my first client. Though I was an attorney was my son was diagnosed I was not a special education attorney. And my experience at my first IEP was an education. Though I did my best to fake it, it was very difficult to follow. Over the years with my son’s IEPs, I grew to learn the system and decided that I wanted to help other families who were taking the same path I did as a parent and be their guide through what can be an overwhelming journey.


Gordon: What advice would you give to parents of newly diagnosed children with autism?


Chris: There is a lot there to unpack. Let me start with this. The earlier a child with autism receives services, the better the outcome. (of course, that being said, it’s never too late to begin treatment for autism either). But I was lucky enough at the time, around 2006, to have a pediatrician who immediately suggested that my son might be on the spectrum and to take him to regional center for an assessment and for services. We took her advice and are still grateful to her for alerting us to this at a time when a lot of doctors were not as proactive in identifying children with autism.


I would also urge parents to be “the squeaky wheel.” Wherever you go for help and for services for your child, it is likely that they are overworked, underpaid and dealing with many families with needs. You need to keep contacting them until you are on their radar and can begin getting services for your child. This will be true with the Regional Center, the public school system and private providers.


Coming at this from the perspective of a special education attorney, I would urge parents to know their rights. There are federal and state laws in place in all 50 states that are there to ensure that your child receives a “FREE APPROPRIATE PUBLIC EDUCATION” otherwise known as FAPE. If your child is on the spectrum (Autism varies greatly from child to child so if a child has autism, they are considered to be on the spectrum), then make sure that your public school assesses them to be considered for special education. To be eligible for special education, a child must have one or more disabilities in one of the 13 categories identified by federal law, Autism is one of the categories, and that disability must affect their educational performance. (So it is possible that a child can have Autism but not qualify for an IEP. In that case, they would likely qualify for a 504 plan).


If they are eligible then, the school holds what’s called an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) which is a contract between the school and the family to develop goals for the child to meet every year as well as services to help meet those goals and an appropriate placement. Placement refers to the type of school that your child will attend. An IEP is held once a year although a parent can call an IEP for a student that is eligible at any point.


It's very important that Parents know their rights in regard to their child with autism. If a child with autism does not have an IEP, the school may be in violation. If the IEP does not provide FAPE, then the school is in violation. Special Education attorneys are there to help parents make sure that their child receives FAPE from their public school.


If your child does not have an IEP, the questions to ask are: First, have they been assessed for special education? If not, then that would be the first step. If they have been assessed, then the question is, do you agree with the assessment? Most important, how does the autism affect your child’s education. Please note that education is a much broader term than academics. A child can be performing very well academically and yest still struggling with social and emotional issues. Education encompasses those issues as well.


If your child has an IEP, then you want to consider how they are doing. Are they meeting their goals? Are they performing well academically? Are they progressing from a social and emotional point of view. A recent Supreme Court case, ENDREW F., which many consider to be the BROWN v. BOARD OF EDUCATION of children with disabilities has some very helpful language to consider. ENDREW F stated that an IEP must be “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances.” So, is your child’s IEP reasonably calculated to enable your child to make progress. Another important question is whether or not your child is making progress. If your child is not making progress from year to year, or worse yet, they are regressing, then it is likely that they are not receiving a FAPE.


I think the important thing to know is that there are many resources out there to help your child with autism, from services to help the child to attorneys and advocates who understand your child’s rights and will help you enforce them.


Gordon: Thank your for an exceptional interview that may help children with autism.

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