How to Become an Advocate for a Child in Public School with Special Needs
- Be Informed
- Ask Questions
- Build Communication
- Monitor and Respond
Parents may want to be strong advocates for their special needs children in public school but be uncertain about how to prepare for this role. Public schools have structures in place to help children with special needs and using the steps below, parents can become better advocates within those structures.
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1. Be Informed
Parents cannot advocate effectively for their children with special needs if they do not have all the information they need. This includes understanding the child’s rights, the district’s rules, and the child’s Individual Education Plan. Like every field, the world of special education has its own jargon, and parents who learn that jargon will be better advocates. They should also educate themselves about their child’s diagnosis and potential treatments.
Parents who wish to advocate for their special needs child in public schools should keep written records of everything that happens. They should also make their own notes and records of anything that is said but not put in writing. Requests and any communication with school officials should be done in writing when at all possible. The Huffington Post recommends recording IEP meetings. This should be done with the knowledge and consent of everyone present. There is a great deal of paperwork associated with being a special needs advocate, and parents should keep all records organized and easily accessible.
3. Ask Questions
Being knowledgeable and having documentation will help parents feel more confident in asking questions. Parents may want to prepare questions ahead of time when going into meetings. This can also make meetings more efficient. Getting the questions out of the way up front can allow parents, teachers and other school staff and officials to move on to making plans for how to more effectively address the child’s needs. Parents should keep in mind that children often behave very differently in school than they do at home and should talk to the teacher about the child’s classroom progress.
4. Build Communication
Parents can advocate better for their children in public schools if they build strong lines of communication with their child, the child’s teacher and school officials. They should talk to their children about what they enjoy in school and what they struggle with. Parents should also think about communication in terms of building relationships over the long term. Furthermore, they should keep in mind that communication can include email and phone calls along with scheduled in-person meetings if there are relatively minor questions or issues that need clarification.
5. Monitor and Respond
Some children with special needs have multiple diagnoses. Parents should keep an eye on their child’s psychological condition as well as their educational progress and take action if something seems amiss. Parents may have an intuition when a child’s behavior changes in some way that indicates a more serious problem. If they do notice changes, they may want to talk to the child’s teacher and other adults who work with the child.
An active, involved parent can make a significant difference for a child with special needs. School officials also appreciate parents who are knowledgeable and who participate in their child’s education. With the above steps, parents can become more effective advocates in the public school system for their child with special needs.