10 Essential Tips for Advocating for Your Child with Special Needs
June 12, 2023|504, MODIFICATIONS, EMOTIONS, IEP, PRIOR WRITTEN NOTICE (PWN), PUBLIC SCHOOL, ACCOMMODATIONS, SPECIAL EDUCATION
As parents of children with special needs, we play a crucial role as advocates. We navigate complex systems, make important decisions, and ensure our children receive the support they deserve. In this blog post, we will explore ten essential tips to empower you in advocating for your child with special needs. From trusting your instincts to staying organized, these tips will help you navigate the journey more effectively. Let’s dive in!
10. Trust Your Gut
As a parent, you possess a deep understanding of your child. Trust your instincts and intuition. If something doesn’t feel right or align with your child’s needs, don’t hesitate to question or seek further clarification. Your intuition can guide you towards making informed decisions.
9. Do not trust the school to be honest with you.
While many schools have dedicated professionals, it’s crucial to approach discussions and decisions with a critical eye. Be proactive in seeking information, clarifications, and updates. Remember, you are your child’s greatest advocate.
8. Make friends with the teachers
Develop positive relationships with your child’s teachers and school staff. Foster open lines of communication, attend parent-teacher conferences, and actively participate in school events. Building a partnership with educators creates a collaborative environment focused on your child’s success.
7. Document everything.
Develop a habit of documenting interactions, conversations, and meetings related to your child’s education. Note dates, times, attendees, and key points discussed. This documentation serves as valuable evidence and reference for future use.
“If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.”
6. Keep a binder
Create an organized system for keeping records. Maintain a binder with important documents, IEPs, evaluations, correspondence, and meeting notes. This will help you stay prepared, track progress, and have information readily accessible when needed.
5. Use facts / not emotion
When discussing your child’s needs, focus on presenting factual information. Keep emotions in check during meetings and conversations. Use data, assessments, and documented observations to support your arguments and strengthen your case.
4. Find a “Partner in Crime.”
If you can find a fellow parent/grandparent/friend who can go in with you, that is even better. A second set of eyes is always helpful. There may be things that your Partner in crime may think are important that you may have missed. Your partner may be there just to observe and take notes. Your partner may begin a meeting by asking for everyone’s name and function. The partner in crime is also good for emotional strength. If you feel like the team is not listening to you it is easy to become emotional. Having a close friend there may be able to help keep your calm in the middle of this raging storm. It’s just good practice to bring a back up to a meeting. Teachers do it, principals do it, students do it, and so should parents. I would never advise going into a professional meeting alone. It is one reason why the police cannot force a citizen to speak without a lawyer.
3. Never be afraid to advocate for your child.
Don’t hesitate to speak up for your child’s needs. Be their voice when necessary. Trust your instincts and fight for what you believe is in their best interest. Your advocacy can make a significant difference in their educational journey.
There really is no reason to be intimidated by these people at all. They all have “more important” meetings to attend to and none of them are really up to date on district policy and certainly are not familiar with the law. I would be surprised if you met many teachers who could tell you what ESSA is. Which is why number two is number two.
2. Research everything.
I know you are busy. I know you have a million things to do. It’s a hard truth, but you have to make time. Remember that this is the education of your child. This is the rest of their life. A life that will be led after you are gone. You have the ability to alter the course of your child’s life if you never give up on it. That means spending the time doing what you are doing: research. Research smart though. Do not try to do this alone. There is too much information out there to sift through it all in the time you’re going to need it. Having a friend for moral support at a meeting is nice and all, but nothing can replace confidence like knowledge. One of the comments in the group was to become “contagious with knowledge and advocacy.” You should know everything there is to know about your child.
When the quads were born, it wasn’t long before Michelle noticed they were different. From that moment, she began to research medical journals for reasons why our children were the way they were. As the years progressed, thoughts turned from medical to educational. The transition between the two was neuropsych domains. Evaluations are the basis for accommodations, but they are very difficult to understand unless you research the terms and figure out what the scores on the tests mean. If you rely on the school, they will skew the data: “Well, it’s only a slight delay in speech. It’s not really enough to need a therapist. We’ll allow him to type his responses instead.”
Because there is so much data to go through, joining a group is often the most efficient way to get information as quickly as you can. Our group has almost 5000 members who all report they have their questions answered in less than 24 hours. Often, the answers are within an hour or two depending on need and desperation. A member can drop a question to the group and go back to taking care of whatever it is they’re doing and come back a couple hours later and they’ll have 3 answers, 2 follow-up questions, and 2 or 9 medical journal articles or citations of law/procedure along with a funny meme about how tough IEP meetings are and how we are all just struggling through.
There is a lot of fellowship in a group as well. The people you meet have the same issues you do. Some just had the same thing happen to them. Another is afraid that’s what is going to happen to them. First time IEP meeting jitters, and late night crying sessions lead to the community growing into a family—a network of parents all looking to improve education for their child and for the world.
As I monitor the page, I am constantly amazed at how supportive and caring the members are. With that said though, there is a purpose. The page is not for the weak. You are going to hear truth. But truth is what you need. Going back to #5, there is no room for emotion. This group is not a pity party. This group is intended to empower its members with knowledge they can use to fight for the rights of their child. This may be a battle (hopefully with these tips, it won’t be), and the group will give you every piece of information it can if you ask specific questions. But with those answers will come the encouragement and stories that will spurn you on to fight another day. At the end of the day, it is the parent that must fight. It is your job to do everything in your power to get every service, every tutor, every therapy, every modification, and stop at nothing until you get it even if it means going to due process.
1 Prior Written Notice
Familiarize yourself with the concept of Prior Written Notice. This legal requirement ensures that you receive written documentation of any proposed changes to your child’s educational program. It gives you an opportunity to review and respond before decisions are made.
Advocating for your child with special needs is a journey that demands strength, knowledge, and determination. By following these ten essential tips, you can become a more effective advocate and champion for your child’s education. Trust yourself, connect with others, stay informed, and never underestimate the power of your voice. Together, we can make a difference in our children’s lives.
Remember, you are not alone. Seek support, share your experiences, and empower yourself with knowledge. Your advocacy can pave the way for a brighter future for your child.
There are over 25,000 active members of our Facebook group. If you want free advocacy, join the group and post a question. We promise, you will get the best advice we can give. Although we are not attorneys, our advice and guidance is based on the law
Parent Alliance for Students with Exceptional Students (PASEN) is meant purely for educational or medical discussion. It contains information about legal or medical matters; however, it is not professional legal or medical advice and should not be treated as such.
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