Are you the parent of a child with Autism, or a learning disability who receives special education services? Does your life with your child seem overwhelming, and you sometimes find it difficult to be the advocate for school issues, as you need to be? Or have you given up advocating for your child's education because you feel that you cannot win? This article will give you 6 ideas on how you can overcome apathy, successfully navigate the special education maze, so that your child can receive an appropriate education!
1. Realize that special education is an entitlement for your child under Federal Special Education law (IDEA 2004), and that he or she is depending on you to fight for the services that they need!
2. Now that school is back in session, try and attend a few parent trainings (on federal and state education and disability law), where you can learn about the law, and gain important advocacy information, as well as meet other parents in your area. Look for groups that provide parent training at your States parent training and information center (PTIC), or local disability organizations such as the ARC or United Cerebral Palsey (UCP).
3. If a local advocacy group does not exist consider starting one with other parents. Attend a few groups so that you can decide what is important to include in your advocacy group. Encourage all members to support each other in their advocacy efforts by perhaps attending each others meetings, or role playing certain situations that may arise. Bringing in knowledgeable speakers will empower your advocacy!
4. Join online organizations that not only educate parents, but have access to knowledgeable people such as lawyers or independent evaluators. Consider joining COPAA (Counsel of Parent Attorney's and Advocates ; for a small yearly fee you can join the listserv that has parents, advocates, and attorneys discussing education advocacy issues. You may ask questions and seek advice on any advocacy situation that you are dealing with. By receiving expert help you will be empowered in your advocacy!
5. Pursue an independent educational evaluation (IEE) to determine what related and special education services that your child needs in order to receive an appropriate education. Try and find a child friendly qualified evaluator that is either a Clinical Psychologist or a Neuropsychologist. It may take several months for an appointment so now is a good time to plan for the evaluation. Do not forget to mention your child's need for extended school year services (ESY) if this is an issue with your school district-a recommendation from an independent evaluator that a child needs ESY is helpful to convince educators that this is needed. Ask your evaluator to put specific recommendations for amount and type of ESY in his or her evaluation report.
6. Try and find another experienced parent or an advocate who can attend meetings with you, educate you on education law, give you advocacy tips, and share information on how you can overcome roadblocks to an appropriate education for your child. Experienced advocates can guide you through the process, as you successfully navigate the special education maze! Make sure any advocate you choose knows IDEA 2004, and your States education law, as well as a willingness to stand up to school personnel and roadblocks that special educators put up!