Below are some very helpful pointers that I believe are imperative elements for parents seeking assistance with special education advocacy:

» The individualized part of IEP means that the plan has to be tailored specifically to your child’s special needs — not to the needs of the teacher, or the school, or the district. Goals, modifications, accommodations, personnel, placement, all should be selected, enforced and maintained with the particular needs of your child in mind.

»The most important thing is to believe that your child is going to be more capable of achievements than anyone would believe is possible. Set and keep the bar high for your child and make the special education professionals see your son/daughter as a child first, the disability label should be secondary. This attitude will help you persevere when you are being told there is no funding, classrooms, and/or personnel/services available to help your child. It is the tenacity of parents that provides success in meeting their children’s unique needs.

» Have a good working knowledge of your child’s strengths and or deficits and have an understanding of the terminology that comes with the territory.

» If you have any questions or any concerns at all, don’t hesitate to bring this up in the IEP meeting. You are an integral part of your child’s educational team. You, as the parent, truly know your child best. Your insights regarding your child – his/her needs and strengths – are valuable and your role on the team is an essential one, so don’t be afraid to speak up and share your thoughts, ideas, and questions openly.

» Remember that in ensuring that your child receive appropriate services you must also insist that qualified and trained personnel be assigned to your child in order that the services be adequately delivered.  Being granted a service may be meaningless otherwise.  Do your research and ask questions about the teachers and therapists assigned to work with your child.  You have the right to know the background, education and training of your child’s service providers.

»While being tenacious you must also be reasonable. This seems like contrary advice. But it isn’t really. Remember that most people working in the area of education really do want what is best for your child. They just do not know your child as well as you do. Parents need to build a good team that includes an attorney or advocate, an educational psychologist as your expert, and a qualified pediatrician who understands your child’s diagnosis.  Armed with this team make sure that you approach the school district with the same dignity and respect that you would want them to have for your child. Information is more powerful than confrontation.

»There will come a time when confrontation may be the solution to cooperation. This is the time that your team comes together with your input to file a due process complaint, that seeks the free and appropriate education that your child deserves. I have had to take this approach for my child. Even as an attorney filing for and participating in a due process hearing was difficult and stressful. But it was worth it. My child has benefited from his team and is currently receiving an education that not only addresses his academic needs but his social emotional ones too. If you would like help for your child anywhere along this process please contact our offices.

»You must check your handicap stigmas at the door. I use the term liberally. The term handicapped is not reserved exclusively for children with disabilities. Don’t be afraid of the term and don’t be afraid or ashamed or emabarrased of labels. Priority number one is getting your child the remedial help he/she needs to access and progress in the proper educational setting.  Any reservations you have about attaching a “label” must be abandoned if your child stands any chance of academic progress.

» Hiring the best attorney will be a useless tool if you as a parent are not one hundred percent committed and in tuned to your child’s needs and the possible battle that comes with the terrain. Your child’s educational success is a communal effort and with dedicated parental involvement and the proper legal team he/she stands the best chance to achieve it. As a parent, you are your child’s greatest advocate, number one supporter, and loudest cheerleader. By becoming knowledgeable and proactive regarding educational laws as well as all of the services and programs available within your child’s school and community, you can rest assured that your child will be able to access the rights that are guaranteed to him/her by state and Federal law.

TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND BRACE YOURSELF.  THE JOURNEY MAY BE A LONG ONE; DO NOT TRAVEL IT ALONE…WE ARE HERE TO TRAVERSE IT WITH YOU!