2016-04-25 / Front Page

Buckley Hugo — an advocate for special needs students

Started by helping son
BY DOUGLAS MCINTIRE
Times Record Staff

BRUNSWICK

If you are the parent of a special needs student and trying to navigate among a myriad assessments and acronyms only to come up more confused than empowered, Buckley Hugo of Midcoast Advocacy wants you to know you’re not alone.

A member of the Autism Society of Maine, the Maine Disability Rights Center and the National Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Hugo began his own career as an advocate for his own son, who was diagnosed with autism at age four.

Hugo began advocating professionally for families in October 2008, helping them navigate individual education plans and Section 504s, which guarantee children with disabilities “reasonable accommodations or modifications,” according to special education law.

“I am an advocate for families of children with special needs and I assist them in working with school districts to get the services their kids need,” Hugo said, summing up his services.

He said usually parents will contact him to discuss what issues they are having with their school district. Then, Hugo said, they will sit down with the district, either informally or in an IEP meeting, to discuss how to move forward to resolve those issues.

“Sometimes it’s just simply that the parents are overwhelmed by the process,” Hugo said.

Quite often, Hugo said he’s able to provide consultation that will help parents navigate the process on their own. Other times, things have gone too far. Sometimes, Hugo said problems persist for years before parents try to regain control.

“Unfortunately, most parents wait until it’s in a disastrous state before they get me on and like with a lot of things in life, it costs a lot more to fix it,” Hugo said.

Hugo said every parent has a different threshold of what or when that moment is and that’s when they usually contact him.

Initial consultations run $150 plus $75 an hour afterward. Hugo said he asks for a minimum 10- hour commitment from parents just to give him an opportunity to sort things out. Hugo said he finds it takes at least 10 hours to make a dent in a case.

Travel factors into cost as well, however, if clients are a prohibitive distance away, Hugo said he’ll try to work remotely via Skype or phone and that most districts are agreeable to that method.

Hugo said he works with students from around Maine, including a cluster of students as far south as Saco and Kennebunk and as far north as Bangor and Bar Harbor.

He has a few clients in Brunswick, although he doesn’t do a lot of out of district placements in Brunswick as they already have resources nearby such as the Achieve program and the REAL School, which will soon be under the Brunswick School District, and the Spurwink program nearby.

Hugo says the need for advocacy remains pretty constant and unfortunately the ones who need it most are the ones who have the least amount of means to get it. He said it’s a lot, especially for single parents, for whom it gets overwhelming pretty quickly.

In most cases, things have not been going particularly well in either a period of months or sometimes years before they finally realize that they need to do something.

“Some parents call me because they want their child in the mainstream and don’t feel that the districts are doing enough to make it work. There are other parents that feel like their kids need a more restrictive setting and they’re not getting support,” Hugo said.

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