Choose Your Advocates Wisely – Getting the Best For Your Child With Special Needs

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Imagine. The time has come, after months of anticipation and waiting! When your beautiful baby is born, life is the most wonderful it has ever been! A book is slipped into your hands by the nurse as she gently places your newborn in your arms. She adds, “Be sure to read it as soon as possible. This is the instruction manual for your child.” Also, be sure to read the section about special needs very carefully.”

I know it’s a crazy scenario. However, there are times when I wish I had that manual! Finding one’s way with a child who has special needs is even more demanding and challenging than it is when parenting on your own. This is a route that might not have been taken by friends and family. The journey can be miserable because of loneliness, disappointment, frustration, and a sense of failure. When your child reaches the age of schooling, the challenges can become overwhelming. At that point, you enter a whole new world of professionals who will spend six hours a day with your precious child! This is a world that is its own culture, with its own language and rules. You might think you’re an outsider. You may believe you require assistance. In this unfamiliar land, you may require an interpreter.

You begin your investigation by looking in the Yellow Pages and the Internet to see if anyone can assist you in achieving my child’s best academic results. You must complete some homework before choosing the person who will be your child’s guide and advocate; for your own sanity and the well-being of your child. Numerous individuals claim to be advocates. However, as the parent, it is your responsibility to determine whether the candidate is truly qualified to represent a student with special needs and whether they are a “good fit” for you, your child, and your objectives. Make the effort to investigate; The choice you make can literally have far-reaching effects on your life and the lives of your children. Your relationship with school personnel, your spouse, your child, and your family will be impacted by the person you choose. Your marriage, personal relationships, and family will all be impacted directly by the advocate. Someone is being invited into your world. Be very careful who receives this priceless present.

What kind of role does advocacy play?
o Assist parents in locating available resources and supports; o Exhibit effective relationship-building and problem-solving skills; o Genuinely and without judgment, listen to all parties;
o Clarify issues o Offer alternatives and potential solutions o Record meetings or assist parents in understanding assessments and documents o Locate and provide information o Speak on behalf of the parent or child when they are unable to do so o Assist the family with written correspondence, documentation, or phone calls o Attend meetings o Follow up on decisions made and actions taken

Advocates ought to have the qualifications necessary to be able to speak honestly and knowledgeablely about learning differences. Respect is earned by having a high level of qualifications. People are much more likely to listen to people who have “walked in their shoes” and have experience with special needs education. It is probably safe to say that very few people are willing to alter their own professional practices and expertise based on the thoughts and ideas of someone who has little to no experience or credentials in the field. It is a waste of time and money for educators to attend meetings with non-special education professionals and have them point out their shortcomings. Any parent who has been lectured on the best ways to raise children by someone who does not have any children may be aware of how frustrating this can be. Teachers are more likely to listen to ideas and points of view from people who are at least qualified to make them. If you want your child to get the best education possible, you should expect an advocate with special education credentials and experience to help you out as a parent. Important qualifications include attending conferences and staying up to date on the most recent policies, procedures, and documents. An advocate needs to keep up with the latest developments in the field of special education. Problem solving is made easier by having a solid understanding of the local programs, services, and resources. It’s just as important to find an advocate who has the interpersonal skills to collaborate with others to find solutions. Expect the person you hire to be qualified to assist you in working with the school as a parent.

Your child should be known by advocates.

To truly understand who they are representing, individuals chosen to represent your child must read assessments, interact with the child, and spend time with the child. If this is the case, advocacy will no longer be about fighting for a cause or boosting one’s ego. An advocate who knows both the parent and the child well can help find common ground between home and school. The advocate ought to be able to explain how your child’s disability might affect their ability to learn and then collaborate with you to help put your child’s needs first. A wise advocate will seek solutions rather than assign blame. The child should be seen in the context of his classroom by advocates. A child’s written program will never be complete. A teacher can’t even begin to describe all of the tools, plans, visuals, supports, and strategies used to help the child succeed. The child’s world reveals far more than any written record could. It’s critical to keep in mind that entering a classroom signifies establishing a “sacred trust.” Teachers need to be cautious about who they let into their classrooms, just as you wouldn’t let someone you don’t trust into your home. The relationship has been destroyed if someone enters the room to “observe,” report back to the parent all of the things they believe are being done incorrectly, and “build a case” against the school. Would you want someone to “observe and critique” you as you handle the day-to-day responsibilities of being a parent?

When interviewing an advocate, listen carefully for language that encourages solutions rather than vengeance. Advocates should be objective and solution-oriented. The advocate’s prior personal history or personal experience with a school district or board are not relevant to the discussion. This concerns YOUR child. In order to come up with a plan that works for your child, the advocate might use their prior knowledge of the people and resources. It is best for the advocate to be respectful, courteous, considerate, and open-minded in order to obtain a positive proactive response from the people who are interacting with your child. Naturally, this applies to each team member.

Can the advocate assist your child in obtaining the best education possible without putting an excessive strain on the resources and staff involved? Promises that are excessively taxing on a personal or financial level are sometimes made in the hope of assisting a parent; however, the school must educate all students, not just yours. There is a possibility that parents will disagree and claim that they truly care about their child. Despite the fact that this is true, schools cannot operate on this foundation. It is the responsibility of educational institutions to look after the group while also making sure that every student gets the help they need. It is not fair to assume that school personnel should provide for another child by taking care of one child. Imagine a person suggesting to a parent that they should take resources from one of their children to give them to another. There are solutions that can be utilized by all parties. We must search for them collectively.

Advocates ought to act as facilitators rather than rulers.

Observe and listen carefully to an advocate. Are they conversing while they are engaged in combat? utilizing terms such as “they” and “us?” Be on the lookout for an ego that is feeding off of your child! Egos protect themselves, not children. When an advocate only sees negative aspects in a child’s education or promises specific outcomes for your child should set off alarm bells. An advocate who speaks with the mindset of “I’ll show them” will not be able to negotiate a plan that makes everyone want to do their part effectively. That is not the way to solve problems. In these scenarios, children are not victorious.