The Importance of Having an Advocate In Your Corner
We have all heard that being a parent is the toughest job you will ever do. No one understands that line better than the parent of a special-needs child. Parents will do anything to make sure that their child is happy and supported. But when it comes to trusting that everyone on your child’s educational team ALSO has their best interest in mind, that situation can get dicey.
As a past public school teacher and therapist, I can tell you that every individual who dedicates themselves to that line of work really and truly has the best of intentions. That being said, as soon as the reality of budget, time and staffing constraints enters the picture, that idyllic reason we all got involved tends to diminish a tad. As much as we all want to individualize and dedicate all our efforts to ensure each child receives our best and most directed efforts, we come to the sad realization that we are often left hitting our heads against a wall. Or – our best selves are being forced to be exchanged for too little time and too little money.
Folks in administration are in the same boat. They have even less “fresh” training and knowledge than the teachers, and they are often being forced to make high level decisions that trickle down to the schools. In addition to the famous budgetary limitations that they face, their hand is also frequently forced by legal constraints – like everyone else in this country.
It is a broken system. We have all known that. But it isn’t for lack of care for the children. It is basically a sad “bean soup” of issues that lead us to the reality of what we face in the public-school system.
So why all this explanation about the current state of affairs in the US public educational system? To explain that much more why you as a parent should not feel bad when you are not sure if you should blindly trust that the school system has your special need’s child’s best interest at heart! Sure – at the core of it they do…. but they, too, are faced with so many obstacles that sometimes, if you don’t step in, your child may not reach their full potential. All children are NOT created equal. Many of them come to us with diverse ways of thinking and learning. If we blindly accept the “one size fits all” approach to education, we may miss the boat as parents. Parents with children who fall under the Special Education or 504 umbrellas can be faced with a myriad of challenges as they try to navigate this system for their child and themselves!
Enter the advocate. An advocate is a hired, third party who is an expert in the areas of special education, disability and special needs law, and someone well versed in the state specific rulings pertaining to the educational system in your area. They know what you NEED to know and make it their job to be your eyes and ears with the most fresh and pertinent information. Most importantly, they are
a third-party representation who understand how to present neutrally and factually when you don’t know how to.
Here are a five more reasons to employ an advocate when your child enters the Special Education or 504 system:
1. They Know Your RIGHTS!
You mean to tell me that you didn’t memorize that Procedural Safeguards Booklet that you were presented amongst the 72 other pieces of paperwork that was sent home? You mean to tell me that you didn’t spend copious hours scouring the web SPECIFICASLY about your rights as a parent in ARD meetings? No fear. Your advocate knows it all cover to cover. In fact, did you know that as a parent, you honestly have more power than all 6 or so folks sitting across from you at that table? Those intimidating eyes who make your feel like you need to do whatever they say? No longer do you need to feel outnumbered and uneducated.
2. The Advocate Levels the Playing Field When Faced With Alphabet Soup:
FAPE, LRE, IDEA, 504, NCLB, IEP, LSSP…..so many letters. So much confusion. Are they trying to confuse and intimidate you? When these terms are used and you don’t know them – and maybe are too embarrassed to ask – lack of knowledge of the lingo may put you at a disadvantage! A special education advocate can help you understand how these terms apply to your child.
3. Understanding Testing and Next Steps
This one is ESPECIALLY important when it comes to the parent of a child with dyslexia. School psychologists, if you are lucky enough to have access to one for dyslexia testing, have often gone to school for many years to understand testing and interpretation of results. But – they are often the ONLY person in that committee who gets to deem qualification for services. An LSSP also has studied copious disorders to find in the numbers. Who is to say that he or she is an expert in shaking out specifically what is happening with your child from the numbers? Did she miss something in regard to what you are trying to pinpoint? Can we put that much trust in that ONE person?
When it comes to identification of dyslexia, this is often problematic. An advocate, particularly one who specializes in dyslexia, can help determine if her interpretation of the numbers, subtest averages, and even testing batteries used looks accurate! As much as dyslexia results interpretation SHOULD be a slam dunk for as common as it is, this is FAR from the case.
And did you know that you have recourse as a parent if you don’t agree with the testing? An advocate can guide you in these next steps so that you don’t make any wrong moves in that meeting.
4. Your Child Isn’t Making Meaningful Progress
As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. If you don’t feel that your child is making progress in their current programming, listen to that “mama gut” and speak up! When you have an advocate on your side, they can do an analysis of their progress and their current programming and help you to obtain the services that your child requires to make meaningful progress. They often are more abreast of the programming options that exist to help guide you in your school requests!
5. You Do Not Agree
In a perfect world, we would all come out of IEP meetings with everything that your child is entitled to. Many parents wrongly walk away without the needed services or accommodations when they are initially denied by the ARD committee. If you feel that your child is not receiving all the appropriate services from your school district, it is essential to speak to an advocate to know your rights and find out what next steps can be.
There IS always another option……another way to skin a cat……a way to be the squeaky wheel….a way to find the money…..in other words….. a way to get what your child needs. A quality advocate can help lead you there in a fair, neutral, and just way that works.
Cite: https://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2012/08/20/ten-reasons-why-you-should-have-an-advocate-for-your-child-with-special-needs Sheryl Frishman