Updated: Nov 22, 2021
Navigating the process of obtaining services and knowing what services are available in special education can be daunting. Often times the process can be so overwhelming that parents or individuals give up or resign to what little is offered by the school district. Having an advocate work on your behalf might be a life saver for you or your student.
What is the role of a special needs advocate?
Special education advocates help parents make sure a child's special needs are met. They help parents understand available services, interpret test results, and work with schools to plan individualized education programs (IEPs).
What does a special needs advocate do?
Here is a quick overview of advocacy skills.
Advocates gather facts and information. As they gather information and organize documents, they learn about the child’s disability and education history. Advocates use facts and independent documentation to resolve disagreements and disputes with the school.
Advocates educate themselves about their local school district. They know how decisions are made and by whom.
Advocates know about legal rights. They know the services students are entitled to and what procedures that parents must follow to protect their rights and the child’s rights.
Plan and Prepare
Advocates know that planning prevents problems. Advocates do not expect school personnel to tell them about rights and responsibilities. Advocates read special education laws, regulations, and cases to get answers to their questions.
Advocates learn how to use test scores to monitor a child’s progress in special education. They prepare for meetings, create agendas, write objectives, and use meeting worksheets and follow-up letters to clarify problems and nail down agreements.
Keep Written Records
Because documents are often the keys to success, advocates keep written records. They know that if a statement is not written down, it was not said. They make requests in writing and write polite follow-up letters to document events, discussions, and meetings.
Ask Questions, Listen to Answers
Advocates are not afraid to ask questions. When they ask questions, they listen carefully to answers. Advocates know how to use “Who, What, Why, Where, When, How, and Explain Questions” (5 Ws + H + E) to discover the true reasons for positions.
Advocates learn to define and describe problems from all angles. They use their knowledge of interests, fears, and positions to develop strategies. Advocates are problem solvers. They do not waste valuable time and energy looking for people to blame.
Advocates know that parents negotiate with schools for special education services. As negotiators, advocates discuss issues and make offers or proposals. They seek “win-win” solutions that will satisfy the interests of parents and schools.
Who can be an advocate?
Anyone can be an advocate! An advocate is anyone who speaks up and defends the rights of others. Lets talk about the different types of advocates:
Lay advocates use specialized knowledge and expertise to help parents resolve problems with schools. When lay advocates attend meetings, write letters, and negotiate for services, they are acting on the child’s behalf. Most lay advocates are knowledgeable about legal rights and responsibilities. In some states, lay advocates represent parents in special education due process hearings.
Educational advocates evaluate children with disabilities and make recommendations about services, supports and special education programs. When educational advocates go to eligibility and IEP meetings, they are acting on the child’s behalf. Some educational advocates negotiate for services. Others are less knowledgeable about special education law and how to use tactics and strategies.
Teachers and special education providers often see themselves as advocates. Teachers, administrators, and school staff often provide support to children and their families. But because they are employed by school districts, school personnel are limited in their ability to advocate for children with disabilities without endangering their jobs.
Parents are natural advocates for their children. Who is your child’s first teacher? You are. Who is your child’s most important role model? You are. Who is responsible for your child’s welfare? You are. Who has your child’s best interests at heart? You do.You know your child better than anyone else. The school is involved with your child for a few years. You are involved with your child for life. You should play an active role in planning your child’s education.
The law gives you the power to make educational decisions for your child. Do not be afraid to use your power. Use it wisely. A good education is the most important gift you can give to your child.