Top Ways to Advocate for a Child with Special Needs

Parents of a child with special needs must learn to effectively navigate the maze of special education laws and go to bat for their kids. In a nutshell, this means they must learn to be advocates.

Learn all you can about your child's special needs

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Information is power, and parents need to start with the facts about their child's special needs. Try and keep emotion out of it; parents need to have fact-based knowledge from their child's doctors, specialists, special education experts, parents of kids with similar special needs, attorneys, teachers, and anyone else who can provide information.

Ask lots of questions and listen to answers

Become like a reporter: Ask questions like, "who, what, where, when, why and when" and then listen carefully to the answers you receive. Research relevant questions and then document responses instead of simply relying on your memory. Learn how to best ask questions and don't come across as antagonistic or defensive to get the best open and honest replies.

Become a "pseudo-lawyer" in special education law

Parents of special education kids don't truly need to become lawyers; however, it is good to become extremely knowledgeable about special education law. Learn the details behind the federal law that effectively created special education, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Always avoid the blame game

An adversarial relationship between parents and teachers is typically never in the best interest of the child. It's sometimes easy to fall in the trap of blaming others or even pointing the finger at bureaucracy for disappointments or a particular situation. But blame doesn't typically result in anything more than bad feelings and an ill-willed situation. Instead, avoid blame, and try the opposite approach. Keep calm, know the facts, and advocate about meeting your kid's unique needs.

Be a problem-solver, not a problem-maker

Working together to solve problems with a child's teacher or child care provider typically nets better results than becoming a problem maker. Propose solutions or create a possible plan that works best for child-parent-provider/teacher. Be open-minded and hear proposed solutions from the educational side as well.

Think long-term and become a futurist

Parents not only have the responsibility of planning their child's education and requirements today; they are also faced with the difficult task of thinking long-term. In other words, parents must be active futurists in setting up their child's successful life down the road.

Become a master planner

Parents typically have goals for their kids, and families of special education students in particular should establish goals along with a strategy to obtain them.

Really get to know child care provider or teacher

Don't assume that child care providers or teachers don't want to meet your child's unique needs and provide educational benefits. Most do. However, a wide range of need combined with limited resources often create the potential for conflict between what reasonably can be provided vs. parents wanting what they believe is "best" for their kids. Parents and providers/teachers should do everything possible to establish a positive, partnership-based learning approach and team together.

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