Parents are often the best educational advocates for their student, especially if the child has a disability. Being an advocate for your child should be a positive process rather than a negative or confrontational procedure. You are in the unique position to assist in the education of your child by identifying specific needs and strengths. The following advice can help you understand your role and better advocate for your child with disabilities.
- Know the rules under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. All public schools are required to follow the laws, rules and regulations under IDEA and provide a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) for all students. However, eligibility varies from state to state so it is necessary to contact your local school district or state Department of Education for more information.
- Get to know the people who make decisions about your child's education. Connect with educators and administrators in both formal and casual settings by joining parents' organizations and offering to volunteer in the school. If you have a concern which you feel is not being addressed, go through the chain of command before taking your problem to the central office.
- Keep records. It is important to maintain a file of educational and assessment information. Take notes during both face-to-face meetings as well as telephone conversations. Be certain to ask for complete information (name, position, and phone number) for better documentation.
- Maintain a portfolio of your child's work. By comparing recent work to previous work you may be able to establish patterns and document abilities as well as challenges.
- Become an informed partner in the educational process. Read books and articles, attend conferences and join a parent support group. Become knowledgeable with educational jargon. Do not be afraid to ask an educator for clarification if you do not understand what they are saying.
- Communicate in an effective manner. Be clear, calm and direct when speaking. Come to the meetings prepared with specific outcomes in mind.
- Know your child's strengths and interests so you can share them with the educators. By understanding your child you will assist in identifying better learning accommodations in the classroom.
- Emphasize solutions and focus on what is best for your child. Once appropriate programs have been identified and agreed upon, monitor your child's progress for their best educational experience.
- Involve your child in the decision making process as early as possible. Allowing your child to become a self-advocate is one of the keys to becoming a successful, productive adult. Support your child in their need to take informed academic risks so that they become more adept at making decisions.