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How to advocate for your child with special needs

A special education advocate is someone who works on behalf of a student and student’s family to help the family obtain special education services. Some advocates are available to families at no charge; others are paid professionals. They have varying levels of experience and training. Special education advocates can be particularly helpful for families who have difficulty understanding the special education rules or for families who are having trouble getting services for their children.

How is a special education advocate different from an attorney?

Special education advocates are different from attorneys. Attorneys (also known as lawyers) have college degrees and have graduated from law school. Attorneys have specific training in advocacy skills and must be licensed, meet continuing education requirements, and follow ethical guidelines. Attorneys can practice law, meaning they can provide legal advice, draft legal documents, and represent clients in court proceedings.

Special education advocates have no educational requirements and are not licensed. While there are advocate training programs, which are hosted by a range of organizations, from law schools, to educational agencies, to private individuals and companies, there is no governing body that ensures that advocates are trained. At least one advocacy organization has established a “board certification” program, but this certification is not recognized as providing mastery of advocacy knowledge and skills by any state, and it does not provide licensure or credentialing. Advocates cannot practice law or give legal advice. In Pennsylvania, an advocate cannot represent you in a due process hearing, although he or she can attend one with you. In other states, an advocate can conduct a due process hearing for you.

What does a special education advocate do?

Special education advocates assist parents with understanding and participating in the special education process. The following items will give you an idea of how an advocate might be able to assist your family. How much the advocate does is up to you. You may choose to have a special education advocate work in an advisory role for you behind the scenes, or you may choose to have the advocate be much more involved in obtaining, maintaining, and monitoring your child’s special education services.

  • A special education advocate should know the federal and state laws pertaining to special education services, and should, ideally, know policies and procedures used in your school district or by your Early Intervention (EI) agency. A good special education advocate can explain the laws and policies to you in a way you can understand.
  • A special education advocate should be familiar with different kinds of assessments and reports, so that she or he can explain them to you, and even recommend a type of assessment that might be helpful to obtain.
  • A special education advocate can refer you to private service professionals who can conduct Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs) or provide other services as needed.
  • A special education advocate can review and explain to you your child’s educational record, including evaluations and testing, Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), and progress reports.
  • A special education advocate should know about services and supports which may be helpful for your child. The advocate should be able to objectively analyze the quality of your child’s education program to determine if your child’s needs are being met.
  • A special education advocate can help you organize your materials so that you can stay organized.
  • A special education advocate can help you prepare for meetings related to your child’s special education program – especially meetings to discuss reevaluations and IEPs or Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs).
  • A special education advocate can help parents write appropriate IEP/IFSP goals and objectives and suggest appropriate supports and accommodations.
  • A special education advocate can accompany parents to meetings and assist in the negotiation process between parents and the school.
  • A special education advocate can review important documents, such as the IEP/IFSP or NOREP (Notice of Recommended Educational Placement), before you sign them.
  • A special education advocate can help you draft letters and written requests to your school or EI agency.
  • A special education advocate can assist you in understanding dispute resolution procedures and can help you assess the strength of your case. He or she should refer you to a special education attorney when needed.
  • A special education advocate should teach you how to become a better, more effective advocate for your child and should help you identify ways for your child to become more independent and able to advocate for him or herself.

Choosing a Special Education Advocate

Unlike other professions, there are no degrees or licenses required to be a special education advocate. This means that basically anyone can call him or herself an advocate. Before working with any advocate – whether you are paying for the services or getting them for free – you should ask questions about the person’s experience, training, and background to make sure the person is a good fit for your family and situation.

  • What did the person do before becoming an advocate?
  • What educational degrees and training does the advocate have?
  • What organizations does (or did) the person belong to? What is the philosophy of those organizations? (One parent discovered too late that her advocate was the founder of an organization called Citizens Against Public Education. The school district was aware, however, and meetings were hostile from the beginning.)
  • What experience does the advocate have in working with families with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? Does the advocate have experience working for children whose abilities or disabilities are like your child’s?
  • Is the advocate willing to provide you with references? Talk to families who have used the advocate to learn about the advocate’s responsiveness, professionalism, knowledge, and effectiveness. What was the advocate’s demeanor during meetings (passive, methodical, antagonistic, conciliatory, accusing, composed, emotional, business-like)?
  • How much does the advocate charge? Does he or she charge by the hour or by the job? If the advocate charges by the hour, don’t forget the time that the advocate will spend reviewing your child’s records, on the phone, and researching programs or services.
  • Does the advocate have a child who has received special education services? Does the advocate have a child who has gone through the same district or EI program as your child? If so, ask questions to determine how this might affect the advocate’s representation of your family. Was the relationship friendly or hostile?

Even after deciding on a special education advocate to assist your family, never allow the advocate to act without discussing strategies with you and without your permission. Ultimately, you are the one responsible for the advocate’s actions, and it is your child’s education on the line.

The educational advocate acts as a liaison between families and school district staff in resolving disagreements and facilitating a collaborative working relationship needed to negotiate services for the child. The advocate may coordinate and attend meetings with both parties, as well as attend the actual CSE/CPSE (Committee of Special Education/Committee of Preschool Special Education) meetings in which modifications to the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) are decided upon. The advocate works with both parties in order to identify a plan that adequately meets the needs of the student. The advocate also reviews documents including occupational, physical, and speech therapies; psychological; and educational evaluations, as well as answer any questions to facilitate understanding of the special education process. Advocates also provide training to parents on the special education regulations and advocacy skills needed to obtain services that students with disabilities are entitled to within the context of the special education system.

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How to advocate for your child with special needs

As a parent, you want to make sure that your child with special needs is never subjected to discrimination and that he or she gets every opportunity to thrive. To be an effective advocate for your child, however, you need to understand the laws that are in place to protect children with special needs. Federal laws regulate special education services and make sure schools provide accommodations for children with disabilities. Almost all states now have anti-bullying laws on the books as well. With a more thorough knowledge of these laws, you’ll better understand your child’s rights and how to defend him or her against unfair or discriminatory treatment.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Enacted in 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensures that all qualifying children with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education. The law outlines the special education benefit, including individualized special education services. States have different procedures for implementing the law, but they all must be consistent with the IDEA. In accordance with the six basic principles outlined in Part B of the IDEA, schools must:

  • Provide free and appropriate public education. Schools are required to provide an education at public expense, under public supervision and direction.
  • Conduct an evaluation. Schools must gather the information necessary to help determine the child’s educational needs and guide decision making about appropriate educational programming.
  • Produce an individualized education program. To ensure that the child’s individual needs are met, schools must create a written statement of the educational program designed for the child.
  • Provide the least restrictive environment. Children with a disability are entitled by law to receive an appropriate education designed to meet their special needs. They must be separated from their nondisabled peers only when the nature of the disability is such that they cannot achieve in a general education classroom, even with supplementary aids and supports.
  • Offer opportunities for meaningful participation. Schools must provide opportunities for parents and students, when appropriate, to get involved throughout the special education process.
  • Implement procedural safeguards. Procedural safeguards ensure that the child’s and his or her parents’ rights are protected, and establish clear steps to address disputes. Procedural safeguards guarantee that parents can participate in meetings, examine all educational records, and obtain an individual educational evaluation.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 provides civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities. The ADA defines an individual with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.

At the U.S. Department of Justice’s ADA website, you’ll find the full text of the ADA and additional information about the Act, including lists of questions and answers about child care centers and the ADA and the Amendments Act of 2008 for Students with Disabilities Attending Public Elementary and Secondary Schools.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects the rights of people with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance, including federal funds. Public school districts, institutions of higher education, and other state and local education agencies may all be recipients of these funds.

Section 504 helps children with disabilities to access school services by requiring schools to provide accommodations and modifications. But, unlike IDEA, it does not provide for an individualized education program. Even if a child does not qualify for special education services under the IDEA, he or she may be allowed special accommodations with this law. For example, a child who must use a wheelchair but does not require special education services would be protected by Section 504.

Anti-bullying Laws

The federal government’s anti-bullying website defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” Making threats, spreading rumors, physically or verbally attacking someone, and deliberately excluding another person from a group all constitute bullying. In recent years, bullying has become the subject of increased media attention, particularly as technology and social media websites have given rise to “cyberbullying,” occasionally with tragic consequences.

As of April 2012, every state in the nation, with the exception of Montana, had passed anti-bullying legislation. Using an interactive map at the StopBullying website, you can research your own state’s laws and policies and find out more about the eleven key components of state anti-bullying legislation, including specification of prohibited conduct, development and implementation of local education agency policies, and training and preventive education.

The website also includes guidance prepared especially for kids, including “Facts about Bullying,” “What You Can Do,” and more than a dozen “webisodes” (cartoons that portray bullying situations and show kids how to address bullying) with accompanying quizzes.

If you need help with more resources, please contact us.

American Advocacy Group is on the front lines every day, making positive change happen for people diagnosed with Autism, Down syndrome and a range of diagnoses across the continuum. As a leading advocate for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, and the premier provider of the support and services people want and need, we understand the system and know how to take action in regard to your best interests.

How to advocate for your child with special needs

My son is one of a kind — literally. He has an unnamed syndrome so rare, only a handful of similar cases exist. He was born with 150 or so extra genes on his fifteenth chromosome. Sometimes, I like to imagine that this gives him superpowers. But nothing is further from the truth. He works very hard to accomplish what most kids do easily. And even though the doctors told us he’d be delayed, it hurts to watch him struggle. At age 10, he is still learning to talk.

Getting a diagnosis so young — when he was six months old — put him on the fast-track for early intervention services and then, ultimately, special education in the public school system. That’s what we, as parents of a child with special needs, hope for. But challenges have come up along the way. Other diagnoses followed, his needs have grown, and we’ve butted heads with the school district over his services. And even though he wasn’t talking, our health insurance stopped covering speech therapy after age 3 — a decision that I appealed successfully.

For all its joys, being a parent can be inherently stressful. And parenting a child with special needs — be it a learning disability, autism, a seizure disorder or a physical disability — has unique challenges all its own that requires extra time and resources. Ten years in, and I am still learning. But I know much more than when I started, and my efforts have paid off: My son has gone from working on sounds and syllables to knowing how to say hundreds of words. And he continues to learn and grow in ways I didn’t think possible. Trust me — your child will surprise you too. Here are some tips to help you on your journey.

Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP, is a board-certified pediatric psychologist, parent coach, author, speaker, and owner of A New Day Pediatric Psychology, PLLC.

Parents of a child with special needs must learn to effectively navigate the maze of special education laws and go to bat for their kids. In a nutshell, this means they must learn to be advocates.

Learn All You Can About Your Child's Special Needs

How to advocate for your child with special needs

Information is power, and parents need to start with the facts about their child's special needs. Try and keep emotion out of it; parents need to have fact-based knowledge from their child's doctors, specialists, special education experts, parents of kids with similar special needs, attorneys, teachers, and anyone else who can provide information.

Ask Lots of Questions and Listen to Answers

Become like a reporter: Ask questions like, "who, what, where, when, why and when" and then listen carefully to the answers you receive.

Research relevant questions and then document responses instead of simply relying on your memory.

Learn how to best ask questions and don't come across as antagonistic or defensive to get the best open and honest replies.

Become a Pseudo-Lawyer in Special Education Law

Parents of special education kids don’t truly need to become lawyers; however, it is good to become extremely knowledgeable about special education law. Learn the details behind the federal law that effectively created special education, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Always Avoid the Blame Game

An adversarial relationship between parents and teachers is typically never in the best interest of the child. It's sometimes easy to fall into the trap of blaming others or even pointing the finger at bureaucracy for disappointments or a particular situation. But the blame doesn't typically result in anything more than bad feelings and an ill-willed situation. Instead, avoid blame, and try the opposite approach. Keep calm, know the facts, and advocate about meeting your kid's unique needs.

Be a Problem-Solver, Not a Problem-Maker

Working together to solve problems with a child's teacher or childcare provider typically nets better results than becoming a problem maker. Propose solutions or create a possible plan that works best for child-parent-provider/teacher. Be open-minded and hear proposed solutions from the educational side as well.

Think Long-Term and Become a Futurist

Parents not only have the responsibility of planning their child's education and requirements today; they are also faced with the difficult task of thinking long-term.

In other words, parents must be active futurists in setting up their child's successful life down the road.

Become a Master Planner

Parents typically have goals for their kids, and families of special education students, in particular, should establish goals along with a strategy to obtain them.

Really Get to Know Your Child Care Provider or Teacher

Don't assume that childcare providers or teachers don't want to meet your child's unique needs and provide educational benefits. Most do. However, a wide range of need combined with limited resources often creates the potential for conflict between what reasonably can be provided vs. parents wanting what they believe is "best" for their kids. Parents and providers/teachers should do everything possible to establish a positive, partnership-based learning approach and team together.

By Stephanie Duesing

In January of 2017, my family and I discovered that our 15-year-old son Sebastian — a straight-A honor student, a painter, a sculptor, a potter and a water polo-player — was almost completely blind. We were going through old photos and realized that he couldn’t recognize himself or anyone else in any of the pictures. We then discovered that Sebastian had taught himself to count his steps and turns as a toddler, and had been navigating our own home as a blind person would, all his life. Sebastian had also taught himself early on to process his vision verbally, using words to help him “see.” The only things he could see for real were letters and numbers. That’s why nobody knew he was blind. Not even him.

An epic struggle to get a medical diagnosis and basic services ensued. The answer we heard over and over again, from psychologists, neurologists, vision therapists and Sebastian’s trusted pediatrician was, “I cannot help you.”

Countless other parents of children with disabilities that are not readily apparent or easily understood know how it feels to come up against one dead end after the other when searching for the help they need. And in this age of coronavirus pandemic, where services considered nonessential are being curtailed, these same families may feel like they’ve been forgotten altogether.

It took almost six months, seeing one specialist after another, for my family to learn that Sebastian is one of tens of thousands of people in the United States alone who has cerebral/cortical visual impairment (CVI) and to get him the basic services he needs.

CVI was identified as the number one cause of visual impairment in the developed world more than ten years ago and still doesn’t have a diagnostic code.

Here are my tips for how parents of children who have any disabilities can become better advocates for their children when professionals aren’t taking your concerns seriously — or aren’t listening at all:

Trust yourself

You know your child better than anyone else in the world. If you are seeing behaviors or symptoms that concern you, trust your instincts. Sebastian’s symptoms of his visual impairment were very subtle when he was little, but once we figured it out, I knew without a doubt what his condition was. That certainty gave me confidence, and that confidence kept me going against all odds.

Listen to your child

Listening to your child doesn’t just mean hearing what they tell you with words. It means paying attention to what they may not be able to say. Crying is communication. A child’s fear, anxiety, anger or pain is as real to them as yours is to you. If your child is verbal, talk to them about what they are experiencing and what it is that distresses them. If the child is too young for conversations, or is nonverbal, close examination of behavioral patterns is necessary.

Be persistent

Doctors are only human and they only know what they’ve been trained to know. As we are discovering with the COVID-19 infection, new infections and medical conditions are discovered regularly, and many older ailments are still poorly understood. If one medical provider is unable to answer your questions or provide your child with the necessary care, find another. Some individuals are more curious and on top of the latest research than others.

Document everything

I have 36 single-spaced, typed pages of documentation of what we went through to get a diagnosis for my son’s vision impairment. I wrote down everything of importance that I could remember about each medical appointment, as well as discoveries we made about Sebastian’s visual processing along the way.

Your persistence can be the difference between getting help for your child or not.

Expand your search beyond the medical community

Different professions vary in how quickly they educate their members on new medical and scientific information. Educators, occupational therapists, science researchers, speech pathologists or any other related field may sometimes be a parent’s best resource. We finally got help thanks to Lukas Franck, the senior consultant at The Seeing Eye guide dog organization who helped connect us to the best vision and brain experts in the world.

Be prepared for the long haul

It took us 15 months to complete our medical journey. We saw approximately 20 different doctors without success. A research study in Paris and another at the Harvard CVI Laboratory for Visual Neuroplasticity finally led us to a conclusive medical diagnosis of CVI from Dr. Barry Kran at the end of March, 2018. The head of optometrics from the New England Eye Low Vision Clinic, Dr. Kran is a leader in the field of cerebral/cortical visual impairment, and was and continues to be an incredible support for our family.

If you are having trouble finding medical or educational assistance for your child, trust your gut, listen to your child, don’t give up, expand your search for help, and be prepared to go the distance. Parents of children who have disabilities are the bravest, most persistent and knowledgeable people in the world. Your knowledge of your child is profound, crucial and irreplaceable. Finding professionals who understand this fact and are willing to listen is half the battle.

Children with learning differences or other special education needs have a great advantage in meeting their educational goals if we parents understand just how much we can do to make a meaningful difference. How can you be the best advocate when it comes to getting the educational services your child needs? Here are five essentials every parent should know:

1. Know Your Power: You Are Your Child’s Best Advocate

Most parents find approaching school teachers and administrators to be nerve-wracking, if not downright intimidating. But parents, because they care so passionately, are always their children’s best advocates. Parents know their children best and are often the first to know that a challenge won’t go away on its own without intervention.

Bring your concerns about your child to the team that plans your child’s special education goals and program. A parent’s perspective is invaluable and something only you can bring to the table. So don’t be intimidated. Fake it if you must. Find a source of strength to be that confident parent at the school meeting table. Under the law, and practically speaking, parents have the most power to influence their child’s school program.

2. Build a Relationship with the School

The old saying that you catch more flies with honey applies. Getting school services for your child is a long-term negotiation. You need to build a good working relationship with the school because children’s needs change (and you as the parent know this best). The school team will need to work with you over time to revise your child’s special education program to continue to ensure that it is appropriate to address your child’s needs.

Set emotions aside — not easy, of course — and approach your meetings with the school almost like a business negotiation. Keep a professional tone. Adopt an approach of cooperative problem-solving. Work around any naysayers.

3. Learn Your Rights

Most parents don’t realize that the law entitles their children to special education to address more than simply academics. Under the law, social, emotional, behavioral, and other challenges – including activities of daily living – are appropriate subjects for schools to address with specific goals and programming. Remember that the purpose of special education is to prepare our children for post-secondary education, employment, and independent living. Parents are right to be asking what their child still needs to learn in order to further those goals.

Knowing your rights enables you to advocate for your child with confidence. A common misconception among parents concerns how to initiate the evaluation process for their child. Parents often don’t know that in order to start the process of having their child evaluated for special education and related services, they just need to write a letter to the Director of Special Services in their school district, asking for an evaluation for their child.

4. Stay Involved

Go into school to deliver those chicken nuggets. Remaining a presence tells the school you care about their efforts to help your child. Also, encouraging communication about matters big or small helps you be part of resolving small issues before they snowball. Keep a communication log. And be sure to place all agreements in writing.

5. Know That You Are Not Alone

When you are starting out as a parent, you will likely feel nervous about walking into special education parent meetings. To get some backup, find out where your district’s parent special education committee meets. These meetings are required to occur in each district under the law. They provide a wonderful opportunity for parents to learn from each other and belong to a powerful community.

Most of all, know that our children are great kids who will do great things. Time and time again, we see that when children are in the right environment, they thrive.

[Parent Tips] How to Be an Advocate for Your Special Needs Child

How to advocate for your child with special needs

When you decide to have children, there are questions and concerns that arise in your mind. “What happens when they are sick?” and “What if something goes wrong?” were thoughts that were in my mind. Nothing really prepared me to welcome my first son into the world and find out that he is deaf.

In our case, we found out after our child was born that he was deaf. We had no previous history in our family with hearing loss. We had no idea what the next steps should be, what our rights were, and what the state should be doing for us. The weeks following our first child being born were hard to say the least. We had so many different organizations, school advocates, and state representatives calling and asking us questions about our son that we didn’t have answers to because we had literally just found out and were still coping with what would now be our new normal.

After everything settled, we conducted some research, and then the school district came out to assess our son. After that, we had a better handle on what our next steps would be. I have put together a guide to the three most important ways to advocate for your child with special needs whether it is a physical, developmental, behavioral, or sensory impairment:

Ask questions and do your research

Luckily for us, the state of Minnesota has a great program in place that will help your child and family learn to develop and grow with a disability. If your state has a program like this, take advantage of it. Within 30 days of our son being born, the Minnesota Department of Education had the school district come out to our house and answer any questions we might have about our son’s disability and assess where he is to determine what needs should be met by an individual family service plan (IFSP). If your state does not have something like this in place, do your research, and find what organizations are within your surrounding area that have experts about your child’s disability.

We were also contacted by a local organization about our son’s disability that sent us a ton of information and resources to help us with the beginning stages of dealing with our sons’ disability. There are tons of local and national organizations and even Facebook groups that can connect you with other families who have a child with the same disability. A couple of sites I always refer to are the Center for Parent Information and Resources (a national organization) and the PACER Center (a state organization). While the PACER Center is specific to Minnesota, its site features a lot of great general information for parents as well.

Keep yourself organized and get a plan

If one of the advocate groups mentioned above gave you a nice little notebook to keep notes, documentation, medical records, phone numbers, and email addresses, use it! But, if not, take this time to go get yourself a folder or binder to keep all this information organized. I can’t stress enough how helpful it has been to have all this information in one place. With all of the information and research you have done up to this point, decide what areas you and your family need help with the most. Write EVERYTHING down so that when you find the right person to answer your question, you won’t forget anything. We all know that after having a child, it is hard to keep all of your thoughts in your head and remember them!

If your school is the group that you have decided to get help from, now is the time to write down goals that you are wanting for your child within the next couple of weeks, months and even years. If you have gone to an outside clinic to get extra help with your child’s disability, make sure that the clinic is on the same plan as you and can help with what you want the outcome to look like.

Set goals and follow them

No matter what you have decided to do in step two, make sure that you have set goals with your child’s IFSP/IEP team or outside clinic so that each person knows what to be working on at any given point.

In this step, it is important to set goals not only for your child but also for yourself. You are learning about this disability right alongside your child. If you have questions about what you can be doing at home, this is the time to have those experts help you as well. An IFSP can be set up to help guide you as a family at home in everyday activities (e.g., how to potty train your child who has a disability, how to help your child with dinnertime, how to have tantrum-free bedtime).

Each goal should have some sort of measurement to know when your child has accomplished it. If your child is not meeting goals or maybe accomplishing their goals quickly, it might be time to reevaluate and either make them harder or easier depending on the situation. You will want to make sure that these goals are at an appropriate level for your child to strive toward.

I think that the biggest thing to remember (and probably the hardest part of this) is making sure that you are always your child’s biggest advocate. Your child is counting on you, and while sometimes it may be hard, the progress you will start seeing if you follow these steps will make everything worthwhile.

Looking for additional enrichment and practice opportunities for your child? Check out Study Island for Home, and gain access to K–12 state-specific content customizable for your child.

How to advocate for your child with special needsFinding the right resources to help you with your child with a disability sometimes feels like an uphill battle. Most parents are told “no” when they ask for educational services for their children at IEP team meetings. And the paperwork for financial assistance is overwhelming and complex. But, you know you need help.

And, you’re right. You do need help. The system is incredibly complicated. It’s impossible to keep up and know everything, but you do need to find someone who understands the system and all its intricacies. If you need financial assistance, or you are battling the school district for the services your child needs, you can get help from an advocate.

Working with an advocate can give you some relief when you feel overwhelmed and it becomes hard to maintain emotions. Whether it is dealing with the amount of information you are receiving, if you need assistance in communicating with school district officials or if you just need help with problem solving when issues are challenging, an advocate who knows the laws and parental rights can come in handy.

What is an advocate?

An advocate is someone who works on behalf of your child with special needs and your family to help your child obtain services. Advocates can be particularly helpful for families who have difficulty understanding the process for applying for financial assistance and for families who are having trouble getting educational services for their children. An advocate will help in the following areas:

  • Explaining issues
  • Recommending options
  • Documenting conversations
  • Researching information
  • Speaking on your behalf
  • Helping the family with written correspondence or phone calls
  • Attending meetings
  • Problem solving
  • Answering all your questions
  • Assisting you in locating other support

Choosing an Advocate

What is the advocate’s background?

It would be useful to find out what training the advocate has received. Skills such as communication, collaboration, presentation, and maintaining a professional relationship are important proficiencies needed by anyone who is an advocate. They should have current information and a good knowledge of special education in general as well as special education law. Care must be taken to ensure that their information is current and accurate. Practical experience such as attending IEP meetings or case conference participation should also be expected.

Is the advocate working toward win-win solutions?

The best advocates look for win-win solutions, and will support you in every aspect. This means that even though your advocate is helping you to understanding systems or working with the school to create an acceptable program for your child, he or she is also collaborating with the school and the district to achieve a solution that puts everyone on the path to success, if possible. supports your child, but does not put the school in a financial or personnel strain? While you may want “everything” for your child, every other parent who has a child in special education does too, and if it strains the school or district financially or personnel-wise, then it is counterproductive for everyone.

Does the advocate understand your child’s needs?

It is important that the advocate gets to know your child. This way, the advocate can better assist you in customizing your requests to the particular needs of your child. Each situation is different and requires open minds to come up with solutions based on the unique situation. The advocate should be able to explain how your child’s disability may impact his or her learning and then work with you to help prioritize your child’s needs.

Will the advocate let you make the final decisions?

Your advocate needs to understand that no matter what, you have the ultimate final decision-making power. An advocate who interjects too much personal preference, or who does not respect your final word is overstepping his or her role. Ultimately, decisions are for you, as the parent, to make when given options. An good advocate should know and encourage this.

If you feel overwhelmed and you need help, please contact us.

American Disability Association is dedicated to the wellbeing and protection of children with disabilities and actively provides support to enhance their quality of life. Whether you are dealing with federal or state benefits or struggling with a school district to get proper education for your child, we have the resources to help you. Many individuals and families managing a disability are not aware of the wide array of services available to them, or they do not know how to apply for these benefits in a way that is likely to succeed.

Contact us for help. Dial (888) 323-2133 or email us at [email protected]