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.
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
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:
- What is their experience with special education, especially the district, county or state you live in?
- Do they have any special education training? How well versed are they in special education laws?
- What is their experience with your child’s particular special needs?
- Do they have an understanding of what your special education issues are, and how do they plan to solve them?
- 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.