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.
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!