Posts

Idealism and the desire to help people is often an overarching view of many young people fresh out of school and ready to contribute to the world. For Adrienne Oliveira, my guest today, she saw a career as a special education teacher as her chance to contribute.

Adrienne reflects on her time working in three different schools in three different states and the dramatic differences she found in each district. All these experiences gave her a unique perspective after her son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Suddenly Adrienne was now a parent at an IEP instead of a teacher.

Overview

A special education advocate is an individual who works on your behalf to help you secure services for your child. Some advocates work for free, while others charge a fee for services. They have varying degrees of experience and many have a child themselves with special needs.

An advocate is much less expensive than an attorney and is the next step up from handling the case yourself.  Fees for an advocate may be recoverable if a settlement hearing occurs.

Sample of services

  • Listen to your situation and help you clarify your child’s needs
  • Attend IEP meetings with you
  • Draft correspondence with the district
  • Suggest and explain services available through your district
  • Explain how the FAPE process works at your district
  • Attend mediation and hearings as your representative
  • Others?
  • Recommend support groups, other parents, and specialists

Questions you should ask

  • Have you been through the IEP process yourself as a parent?
  • What types of cases have you worked on?
  • What is your educational background?
  • Have you been through any advocate training programs?
  • Do you work for or under an attorney?
  • Describe your role when during an IEP meeting.
  • What do you enjoy and not enjoy about being an advocate?

Additional Resources

As the number of children with autism or learning disabilities across the United States continues to grow, and legislation designed to oversee the education of these children is increasingly drawn upon, it is no small wonder that those schooled in law are looking to become a special education lawyer because they are needed now more than ever.

Those who have studied and practice in education law and have experience in special education issues can help parents navigate the legal complexities of this area of the law. More often than not, a special education lawyer helps to resolve matters of dispute more effectively and efficiently than can parents alone.

Defining a Special Education Lawyer

 

shutterstock_140867215.jpg

Special education lawyers must be familiar with all aspects of education law, such as education reform and student  and teacher civil rights. It is also helpful for special education lawyers to be familiar with autism and all types of learning disabilities.

In addition, they need to have a strong understanding of all federal and state legislation regarding special education. They need to have knowledge of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (most notably Section 504, which protects those with disabilities from being discriminated against from any organization).

Special education lawyers mainly help to develop an Individual Education Program (IEP) for a special needs child. This is a plan describing how a school will educate a particular special needs child. Special education lawyers can also help mediate disagreements between parents and schools if an IEP is not adhered to, or if other problems arise concerning how the child is educated.

Advocating for the Special Needs Child

In many cases, parents become advocates for their children when it comes to education. However, many parents are simply not knowledgeable in areas of negotiation, legal communication or due process when problems concerning their special needs child or children arise. Some parents simply don’t have the time nor the resources to adequately prepare and present their arguments.

This is where special education lawyers come in.

“A good attorney can advise a parent how to obtain a better program and services, how to effectively advocate for the child,” says David A. Sherman, a special education lawyer for Medical malpractice lawyers phoenix, he also wrote: “Autism: Asserting Your Child’s Right to a Special Education.” Source: (http://www.baizlaw.com/practice-areas/medical-malpractice)

What’s more, Sherman says, “A special education attorney will advise a parent as to how to assert their child’s numerous and substantial rights.”

Going the Extra (Special) Mile

Do special education lawyers do more than any other type of lawyer? On the surface, no. They file documents, attend meetings and hearings, write briefs…in short, do all of the things any lawyer would do no matter the nature of the issue, whether it be a criminal case, divorce proceeding or child custody battle.

 

shutterstock_138529562.jpg

But special education lawyers perform a service that other lawyers do not: they bring a voice to those who may not be able to speak for themselves. In many cases, defendants can go to the stand on their own behalf. Some even become active participants in the preparation of their defense.

Special needs children do not have this luxury. They do not understand the laws that are being broken when the school they attend does not honor their IEPs or federal legislative mandates. Most parents are not well versed in these laws. It is the special education lawyer who must act as advocate for these special needs children.

And not just your average advocate, but one who is armed with the legal knowledge and mediation skills needed to get the job done. Considering the importance of what’s at stake (a fair education for all), the impact of a special education lawyer cannot be understated.

 

Any parent of a special needs child knows how stressful and even confusing it can be to navigate the sometimes murky waters of your school district’s special education system. Although schools today are much better equipped to handle children with special needs than they were in years past, sometimes it can still be a struggle to make sure you and your child’s needs are met and that everyone on all sides is happy.

If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you are having a hard time securing the education your child deserves,  the assistance of a special education advocate might be what you need to guide you through the deeper waters.

shutterstock_114639952.jpg

What Is A Special Education Advocate?

A special education advocate is someone who is well-versed in special education. Maybe they are or were a special education teacher, or they have a degree in special education. Or it could be that they are a parent of a child with special needs who has gone through the education system, and now they want to help other parents by imparting on them what they have learned.

Many times having a special education advocate in your corner can be most helpful when working on the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your student. The IEP is what determines the plan for your child’s education with the input and direction of everyone involved — parents, teachers, school administrators, and anyone else working for your child’s education — so that your child’s education goals are clearly set and everyone is on the same page.

Selecting A Special Education Advocate

shutterstock_55273471.jpg

If you find you are in need of a special education advocate, how can you find one that is right for you and your family?

The first step would be to find a special education advocate in your area, and preferably one that is knowledgeable about the area you live in — either your state, county or city — and also has experience with the particular needs of your child. Some places to find potential special education advocates would be:

  • Your local school system, either your child’s school or school district, county school district, or even state board of education
  • A local parent group, such as the PTA
  • A local disability nonprofit or support group
  • Your child’s physician or counselor
  • Other parents of children who have special needs who have been through the IEP/special education process
  • A professional advocate group, such as the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, which has a searchable online directory.

Once you have found a potential special education advocate for your child, then it’s important to know what questions to ask them. Treat this as if you were hiring any other professional to help you and your family — the interview process is important!

5 Questions To Get You Started:
  1. What is their experience with special education, especially the district, county or state you live in?
  2. Do they have any special education training? How well versed are they in special education laws?
  3. What is their experience with your child’s particular special needs?
  4. Do they have an understanding of what your special education issues are, and how do they plan to solve them?
  5. What types of support will they offer the family (such as attending IEP meetings) and how much time will they be able to devote to you?

For more questions to ask and things to look for in a special education advocate, use COPAA’s Voluntary Code of Ethics for special education advocates for more ideas, and here are some other ideas from the Federation for Children with Special Needs.