Advocating for Your Child
Often today, moms or dads who push aggressively for their child’s success in school are considered hovering or “helicopter” parents. But parents of kids with special needs – whether physical, mental or learning-based – are a notable exception. They really do need to advocate for their children to be sure their extraordinary needs are met in the public schools.
The Massachusetts-based Federation for Children with Special Needs and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education offer these tips on becoming an effective advocate for your child:
If you’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin – Educate yourself first. Understand your child’s disability and learning style and learn about the special education process and programs at your child’s school. Know your rights and responsibilities under Massachusetts state and federal law. As the parent, you’re a key member of your child’s special education team at school who can work collaboratively with teachers and other school professionals.
If you’re concerned about your child’s educational progress – Talk to the teacher, principal or the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team leader. If you’re concerned about your school’s special education program, talk with other parents, particularly those serving on your community’s special education Parent Advisory Council (PAC).
If you have questions or concerns about special needs law or the way your school handles children with special needs – Contact the Program Quality Assurance office at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (781-338-2700). The Federation for Children with Special Needs (800-331-0688) has Information Specialists who can also answer your questions or guide you to your next steps.
Special Education Advocates
Trying to ensure that your child gets the individual educational help he needs can feel pretty overwhelming.
Consider hiring a special education advocate. Advocates are trained in the law and the rights of people with special needs. Those familiar with your child’s particular school district often know of solutions that might not immediately be clear to you, and they can help you request a specific service or program for their child. Advocates also help parents read and understand their child’s school records, IEP and testing information. And, if you’d like, they can also attend the school’s team meetings about your child with you. The Federation for Children with Special Needs provides training for advocates and can refer parents to those who have completed this training. Contact the Federation at: 617-236-7210 or 800-331-0688; www.fcsn.org.
– Adapted from A Parent’s Guide to Selecting a Special Education Advocate in Massachusetts, a publication developed cooperatively by the Parent Training and Information Center, a project of the Federation for Children with Special Needs, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Other Resources for Advocacy
National Dissemination Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities – www.nichcy.org
National Center for Learning Disabilities – www.ncld.org
National Down Syndrome Congress – www.ndsccenter.org
Autism Society of America – www.autism-society.org
Also look into other national organizations dedicated to a specific special need.