Speech therapist modeling mouth shape in a mirror with a young girl looking on

I knew nothing about special education before my daughter was diagnosed with autism at age 4. By that age, we’d missed Early Intervention services, a program for children from birth to 3 years old. When she was diagnosed, I wondered, “My child needs special education. Now what?” This is the post I wish I’d had at that time. It includes special education resources on or around Cape Cod that can be helpful for you and your child.

What is Special Education?

Special education is for a child with a disability. Special education laws and regulations are meant to protect a student with disabilities and ensure that he or she receives all needed aids and services.

Often, access to aids and services is in the form of accommodations written in a document prepared with a team of school staff and parents. These accommodations are written specifically for helping your child. For example, my daughter has a hand signal she uses with her teachers if she needs a break, and they know to let her relax for a few minutes in a sensory-friendly area.

Laws and regulations can be complex, and there are both federal and state level laws that apply. I highly recommend reading the Parent’s Guide to Special Education created by the Federation for Children with Special Needs and the state of Massachusetts.

Get informed

The Federation for Children with Special Needs is an amazing resource, especially for help with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), at no cost to you. Most of the Federation staff are parents of children with disabilities and know firsthand the questions, struggles, and rewards that parents in similar situations can face.

The Family Leadership Series offers free training that guides parents and caregivers who have children with disabilities to be effective leaders in advocating for their child at the local and state policy level. Throughout the series, you meet with other disability leaders to share knowledge, experience, and ideas. It also covers self-care for caregivers since we often neglect ourselves to focus on our children.

I’m in the 2023/24 Southeast Massachusetts Family Leadership Series class and have found it life-changing. It’s expanding my advocacy knowledge while connecting me with others in my area who share my passion.

Find community in support groups

No matter what the diagnosis that puts your child on the special education track, it helps to talk with others who are living in similar situations. My family found community both online and in person.  


Online, you can search for support groups for your child’s diagnosis. For example, the South Shore Parents of Children with ASD group on Facebook has been a wonderful way to meet other parents and their kids, connecting around shared experiences. They’ve even had in-person coffee meet-ups, so the online community has expanded to offline for me.

In person

Offline, look for organizations that cover your child’s diagnosis. In-person groups provide community and can also connect you to financial support if needed for things like  Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT), speech, and executive function skills groups. 

The Arc of Plymouth and Upper Cape Cod serves individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. Arc hosts caregiver support in addition to programs for the family member with the disability. They can also direct you to sibling support groups. The staff is a wealth of knowledge for what supports are available in your area.

Cape Organization for Rights of the Disabled (CORD) is a nonprofit organization that advances independent living and the rights of people with disabilities on Cape Cod and the Islands. My favorite part about CORD is that it’s run by those it serves. They can help you with special education needs and other support for your children, as well as advocating for policies on the state level.

Look for fun opportunities

Greater Massachusetts Special-Needs Events is a wonderful resource to find events for your child and your family, from “especially for me” museum days to supportive recreation. Its goal is to be the one-stop search for finding local events for special needs kids. 

Do you have a child who is in special education in the Cape Cod area? What resources are working for you? Please share in the comments!

Danielle Kempe
Danielle is a lifelong MA resident - and proud of her “wicked strong” accent. She grew up on the North Shore but now lives on the South Shore, splitting her time between Upper Cape Cod & Marshfield. Danielle has 2 children - Elise and Ethan. Elise was born in 2017 and as of 2023 she’s 5 years old. She is also Autistic. Ethan is a new baby born April of 2023. Her family of 4 (husband, David) loves visiting Mass Audubon sites across MA and is always up for a fun adventure. Danielle is neurodivergent and works as a nonprofit fundraising professional. You can find her shuttling her kids between activities, being silly, lost in a good book - and sneaking in writing when she gets a chance.


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