As a parent of a child with special needs, you would do anything to make sure your child is happy and in a supportive educational environment. However, the system quickly gets overwhelming – a CASE or IEP? FAPE, LRE, IDEA, 504, ESS, IEP, IFSP? Should your child see a school psychologist or have a special education teacher, maybe both? Do you think your child would benefit from Assistive Technology? Is it time to discuss transition? All these questions and more are discussed often and at length. Knowing how to best advocate within the educational system will ensure you’re getting the best education for your child.
Work within the system
Effective advocates are respected for their skills in communicating in a way that avoids making others feel defensive. Start by asking what programs your school does have in place, and what programs they would be willing to integrate. If you have a specific program in mind that hasn’t been discussed, bring it up. Explain the benefits you see in it, and encourage a discussion. Be assertive but not aggressive.
Don’t play the blame game
Most teachers know, and will probably agree, your child needs more. As a parent, build a positive relationship with those who educate your child. Approach them as an ally and collaborate together, knowing you’re both doing the best for your student.
Ask two key questions
At one point or another you’re going to be sitting with a group of people who better understand the intricacies of the system and your child's’ Independent Educational Plan (IEP). It’s confusing and overwhelming, and you’re not even sure what questions to ask. Ask these two: “What are the outcomes?” and “What are the consequences?”
Trust your gut
At the end of the day, you know your child best. Even if a program or a class is supposed to be helpful, ask yourself whether you’re seeing improvement and trust your gut. If your child is not improving skills or self-esteem, then it’s time to look at a different program.
Federal laws and regulations provide a framework for addressing the needs of special education students, but remember you’re dealing with a public system with limited resources. There is probably always going to be more that you want to do, but instead focus on what is already available. For additional support, you might consider private, specialized tutoring or group programs with other kids with learning disabilities that can help improve academic skills and self confidence.