Most parents advocate for their children without even realizing it. You seek out medical help when your child is sick, stand up for your child when he or she is treated unfairly, and ensure that your child lives and plays in a safe environment. Yet, for many parents, advocating for their child in a special education context seems far from second nature.
Many people think of advocacy as a reaction to a negative situation. For example, a child is denied services and a parent “advocates” to have the denial reconsidered. But advocacy – even in the special education context – happens on a regular basis. Advocacy includes being able to speak to your child’s teachers about the therapies your child is receiving at home and at school, your child’s emotional state, your child’s attitude toward school, and any other topics of conversation that would be helpful for someone who is working with your child to know. It includes keeping track of the services your child receives and knowing the timelines of when events such as evaluations and annual Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings occur. If you think of advocacy as a routine activity, it may seem less daunting.
Sometimes advocacy can be more challenging, however. If there is a specific program or support you want for your child, you must be able to describe what it is you want and how it could benefit your child. If your request is denied, your advocacy skills become even more important.
Fortunately, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act sets forth specific guidelines on how to handle disagreements within the special education system. While it is possible for parents to handle disagreements completely on their own, sometimes a parent can use outside assistance. There are attorneys who specialize in special education law as well as professional special education advocates who can help parents understand the special education process and navigate dispute resolution procedures.