Are you the parent of a child with autism or other disability that is considering finding an advocate to help you with your child’s education? Would you like a short list of qualities to avoid when choosing a special education advocate?
This article will help you avoid certain negative qualities in a prospective advocate, so that you can help your child receive a free appropriate public education.
Quality 1: Stay away from an advocate who has not received formal training in federal and state laws, and case law. Good advocates will have a working knowledge of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (federal law), and your state laws governing special education. Effective advocates do not have to memorize the law, but should know where to find any information that they need. Advocates must also know what due process hearings and court cases have already occurred, so that they can use the information to benefit your child.
Quality 2: Stay away from an advocate, who has little to no experience helping parents navigate the special education system. Unfortunately there are people who call themselves advocates, who do not have the experience that they need, to be effective. You do not want the advocate learning at the expense of your child’s education. Try finding an advocate at a disability organization like a Parent Information and Training Center (PTIC).
Quality 3: Stay away from an advocate, who guarantees you a certain outcome. While most advocates work hard and do their best, there are no guarantees in special education. You would rather work with an advocate, that has a realistic view of what can be accomplished for your child.
Quality 4: Stay away from an angry advocate, who seems to have there own agenda. I have heard of advocates that target certain school districts, due to their own anger. Every person including parents in special education, become angry at some point. But the important thing is that the advocate can continue to be professional, even if the school personnel are not.
Quality 5: Stay away from an advocate, that is not willing to challenge special education personnel, when the need arrives. Advocates must be willing to stand up to school personnel, for the good of the child, in an assertively persistent manner. This is the reason why it is so important to understand Federal and State special education law; you have the information you need to effectively stand up for the child.
Quality 6: Stay away from an advocate that does not promise you complete confidentiality! Advocates must not share any information that they learn about parents and their children; and unfortunately this does happen on occasion. You want your advocate to keep things you tell them confidential, as well as any strategies that they will be using.
Quality 7: Stay away from an advocate, that appears to be a know it all! No advocate including myself knows everything. You need an advocate, who is willing to find out the information that will help your child, if they do not know.
Advocacy is an art and involves trying different strategies to help the child receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). By knowing what characteristics to avoid in an advocate, will help you make an informed decision about any advocate that works with you to help your child. Good luck!
JoAnn Collins is the mother of 2 adults with disabilities, and has been a special education advocate for over 15 years. She has helped hundreds of parents navigate the special education system, for the benefit of their child’s education. She is also the author of an advocacy book for parents entitled: Disability Deception. For more advocacy tips and information to help you advocate for an appropriate education for your child