Advocating for Your Child’s Special Education Needs
Being a parent of a special needs child is not easy. Working with a new team each year is hard. It’s hard even when the only thing that changes is your general education teacher.
As a special education teacher, parents, you play a critical role part in your child’s education. Advocating is empowering and HARD. By actively participating in your child’s education and collaborating with educators and professionals, you can ensure that your child receives the support and resources they require to thrive. In this blog post, I will share 8 valuable insights and practical tips to help you become a strong advocate for your child and their needs.
Knowledge is power! Take the time to familiarize yourself with special education laws and regulations in your country or state. Understand key terms and acronyms commonly used in special education, such as Individualized Education Program (IEP), 504 Plan, and Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Learn about different disabilities, accommodations, and instructional approaches that can support your child’s learning. Understanding these concepts will help you to communicate and collaborate with teachers and school administrators. (I’ll share more on each of these soon.)
Developing strong relationships with your child’s classroom teachers, therapists, and administrators are essential. Attend parent-teacher conferences, IEP meetings, and other school events to establish open lines of communication. By fostering positive relationships, you can create a supportive network that works together to meet your child’s unique needs.
Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful advocacy. Regularly communicate with your child’s teachers to stay informed about their progress, challenges, and any emerging concerns. Share your observations, insights, and goals for your child’s education, IEP, and post-high school. Collaboration ensures consistency between home and school.
Maintain a record of all correspondence, meetings, evaluations, and assessments related to your child’s special education. Keep copies of IEPs, progress reports, and any relevant documentation. This documentation can help you track your child’s progress, identify patterns, and support your advocacy efforts.
Be an Active Participant in the IEP Process
The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a vital tool for ensuring your child’s educational needs are met. Actively participate in the development and review of your child’s IEP. Share your insights, goals, and concerns, and be prepared to negotiate and collaborate with the school team to create an effective plan. Remember, you are your child’s voice during these meetings.
Know Your Child’s Rights
Familiarize yourself with your child’s rights under special education law. Take the time to read them and ask questions if you don’t understand your Parent Rights and Procedural Safeguards. Understand the services and accommodations your child is entitled to and ensure they receive them. If you encounter any challenges or obstacles, advocate for your child’s rights respectfully but assertively, seeking guidance from organizations or parent support groups if necessary. (If you are not sure where your copy is, go to your state department of education, download, and read it.)
Seek Additional Support
Don’t hesitate to seek additional support from professionals, advocacy organizations, or parent support groups. These resources can provide guidance, mentorship, and valuable insights to help you navigate the complex world of special education. Share your experiences and learn from others who have walked a similar path.
Foster a Collaborative Approach
Remember, you and the school team share a common goal—your child’s success. Approach advocacy as a collaborative effort, working together to ensure your child receives the best possible education. Maintain open lines of communication, listen to different perspectives, and find common ground to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment. Explore differentiated instruction techniques, such as varied assignments, flexible grouping, or modified assessments. Collaboratively find ways to adapt the curriculum to meet your child’s individual needs.
Advocating for your child’s special education needs is a powerful way to ensure their educational journey meets their unique abilities and challenges. By educating yourself, building relationships, maintaining communication, and actively participating in the IEP process, you can effectively advocate for your child. Remember, you are your child’s greatest advocate.
Alison Whiteley has been a special education teacher for over 15 years, spending most of her time working with elementary students and families. After graduating from the University of Colorado with a Bachelor of Arts in Special Education and Psychology, she continued her education with a Masters in Reading from Walden University. In addition, she has achieved endorsements supporting Early Childhood Special Education and Diverse Learners which she uses to help identify needs across all learners.
Ms. Whiteley is trained in Wilson Reading System and Yoshimoto Orton-Gillingham. She believes all students can learn to read and be successful. She has served as a Special Education Coach and Mentor to fellow specialists and teachers, facilitated the creation of her elementary school’s Response to Intervention/Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (RTI/MTSS) process and helped parents through the Special Education process as IEP Coach for parents. In 2013 she completed the National Boards of Professional Teaching in Exceptional Needs with recertification in 2022. Her areas of expertise involve working with students with learning disabilities, supporting stakeholders moving through the special education process, and helping parents and teachers understand what they can do to support struggling learners in the public school settings.
She is a founding member of the Colorado Reading League and a member of the International Dyslexia Association in Colorado. Alison has two greyhounds and two nephews who keep her busy outside of school. She is the CEO of Toad-ally Exceptional Learners at http://www.toad-allyexceptionallearners.com. Alison is a valuable source of information to support teachers and parents, although she is not a lawyer and does not give legal advice. Her services support families through the IEP process and how they can be an equal member of the team through positive interactions. She focuses on collaboration and using tools to take IEPs to the new level of helping students achieve.