The First Steps of Becoming a Special Needs Advocate

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In a perfect world, every child with special needs would get the help and support they needed without trouble. Unfortunately, in the real world, there are many times when school districts are reluctant to provide resources for children with special needs. The excuses they give can be ridiculous, too.

This is where Special Needs Advocates come in handy.

As a professional advocate for children, you’ll have the knowledge and experience to navigate the complexities of the educational system and ensure that children are given as much help as possible. Let’s take a brief look at what Special Needs Advocates actually do, then go through the first steps towards becoming one.

The Daily Life of a Special Needs Advocate

Special Needs Advocates spend their time on two primary tasks.

  • First, to do their job properly, they constantly study in order to understand the many laws, tests, services, products, and techniques that involve children with special needs. A well-trained advocate can immediately tell if a school is being honest when they say “we can’t do that”, or whether they’re just trying to avoid the burden of extra work.
  • Second, advocates attend meetings at schools in order to discuss the resources and plans for a child with special needs. These meetings often take place before the school day even begins when there are far fewer demands on the staff’s time, so the majority of advocates fall into an early-to-bed, early-to-rise sleeping schedule.
  • Third, advocates clarify things for parents and help explain the many documents that are handed out at IEP meetings. Understanding these documents is a key part of giving children the help and support they need.

How Can I Become A Special Needs Advocate?

The first step to becoming a Special Needs Advocate is to be educated about relevant laws and working with children who have special needs. There are no special certifications or requirements necessary to serve as an advocate. You do not have to be a legal professional, you do not need to have a degree in teaching, and you don’t even have to have past experience. It helps if you’re already at least a little familiar with how the special education system works, and this is a good place to start independent studies.

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However, if you plan to make a career out of advocacy, it’s important to have as much formal training as you can get. Take a look around, and consider contacting a local special needs law firm for advice. They can likely point you to the best classes in your area. You may even end up working with them once your career begins.

Next, get some professional training in controlling your emotions. A passionate desire to help children is an asset, but if you get too invested in your emotions during meetings with kids who truly need help, you won’t be able to represent them as effectively. Being able to maintain a professional distance from the situation will ultimately help them more, and that’s your goal as a Special Needs Advocate.

Finally, join a local Special Needs Advocacy Group. This will connect you with other professionals in your field, help you with your search for a job, and help you access a variety of resources that will come in handy over the next few years.

Once you’ve completed these steps, you’ll be ready to start seriously pursuing your career as a Special Needs Advocate!

5 Ways to Improve “Reading Time” With Your Special Needs Child

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We’ve known for a long time that reading is important for the development of children but children with special needs often find it difficult to process written material. Here are some tricks you can use to make reading time easier on everyone.

1) Avoid Distractions

Many children with special needs have difficulty processing sensory input. Anything that requires extra processing can distract them from the text. Once the chain of ideas has been broken, they may not be able to connect their thoughts together again. The best way to solve this problem is to avoid having any distractions during reading time. If something isn’t there to help them learn (whether it’s a sound, a smell, or even a toy on the floor), it shouldn’t be there.

2) Engage Their Senses

When we think of “reading time”, we usually think of sitting down with a child and reading to them from whatever book we’ve picked out that day. However, that’s not always the best way of teaching children who have special needs. Try engaging their senses in different ways, like:

  • Say a word out loud as they try to read it
  • Draw the scene described in the book
  • Smell and feeling the objects described

Many children with special needs have difficulty processing information in a ‘normal’ way, but are fully capable of processing it in another fashion. Uncovering a method of learning that works for your child can help ensure that learning is fun, not a chore where they put for effort only to fail again and again.

3) Keep Reading Time Short

Even if you find a method of learning that works for your child, don’t spend too much time on any one reading session. You don’t need to go through a whole book just because it’s there, especially if your child doesn’t understand enough of the story.

For children with special needs, reading often feels like the worst daily commute you can imagine. All they want to do is get to their destination, but they have no control over how fast they get there. The constant starting and stopping in their progress feels dangerously unstable. In a situation like that, isn’t it normal to grow frustrated as time goes by?

Reading time should be as short as it needs to be. If they need a lot of instruction to master one sentence, help them master that sentence and then let them take a break and do something fun. If they’re up to mastering paragraphs, limit yourself to a paragraph at a time. Several small reading sessions throughout the day may help them far more than one in-depth lesson.

4) Repeat As Necessary

Similarly, don’t be afraid to repeat material until you’re sure that the child completely understands it. Repetition is often the key to successfully remembering things. If the knowledge they’re gaining isn’t reinforced, they might forget it by the time their next study session comes around.

Combine this part with step two – by engaging their senses in a different way with each repetition of the content, your child won’t be limited to one method of recall. Instead, they’ll be able to think about the texture, flavor, sounds, smells, and play-acting they’ve done.

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5) Connect It To Real Life

Even the most intelligent children often have difficulty learning something if they can’t figure out how it relates to their life. For example, a young man who had outstanding scores in reading and writing struggled with math. He consistently tested several grades above the standard level in other subjects, but he struggled with math because he just couldn’t figure out how it was ever going to be relevant. It didn’t help when his teacher told him that he would never use the material in real life, and he never mastered more than the everyday basics. Now, if the kids who are good at learning struggle with a disconnect in real life, imagine how hard it must be for children with special needs.

Connecting reading material to real life transforms it from symbols on a page to something real, something they can actually go over and investigate. Try asking your child to connect the ideas from reading time to other parts of their life. Once they make a personal connection with what they’re reading, they should find it much easier to understand the material.