How to Find the Right Special Education Advocate for Your Child


How to Find the Right Special Education Advocate for Your Child

I have hesitated writing this blog because it seems so self-serving. I am a great advocate and an advocate that will always go the extra mile. But there are many great advocates out there. However, when one of my clients told me, "I was thinking you should probably write an article or give advice on how to ... identify an advocate not doing their job (just after your money) and how to look for one with the qualities you have ... who is genuinely trying to help you..." I knew it needed to be addressed.

So here is my advice on finding an advocate.

Introduction: What is a Special Education Advocate, and What Do They Do?

A special education advocate is a professional who helps families and individuals with special needs navigate the complex world of special education. They provide support, guidance, and information about IEPs (Individualized Education Programs), 504s, services, and other available resources for their clients. Special education advocates work with families to ensure their child’s educational rights are being met. They can also help them access the services they need for their child’s success.

The 5 Steps in Finding the Perfect Special Education Advocate for Your Child

Finding the right special education advocate for your child can be overwhelming. But with a few simple steps, you can ensure you are hiring the best person for the job.

The first step is to look at the qualifications and knowledge of potential advocates. You want to confirm that the advocate has experience working with special needs children and understands how Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and 504 plans work. It would help if you also considered their specialties, such as dyslexia, autism, down syndrome, behavior management etc. Many advocates that service everyone will miss the nuances specific to a particular diagnosis.

The second step is to ask questions about their experience and expertise before deciding. Ask them about specific cases they have handled or testimonials from other clients who have used their services before. This will give you an idea of their knowledge base and confidence. Most special education advocates have a child with special needs, but consider their other experience; do they have experience in education, have training from a reputable institute, and are they continuing to learn and keep up to date on laws and policies?

Third, consider price and services. Make sure that you understand what services the advocate will provide and how much they charge. Ask for an action plan and even a timeline if necessary.

Fourth, how easy will they be to work with? Do they answer their emails? Will they be available by phone? Can you connect with them on Zoom or Google Meets?

Lastly, do you have a connection with them? If you are uncomfortable working with the advocate, you are not likely to make much progress. This person is going to know many of the ins and outs of your family; you want to make sure you are comfortable talking to them and that they will respect your privacy.

Conclusion

No one will ever be able to replace you on the IEP team. You know your child better than anyone else at that table. An advocate can bring many things to the table, knowledge of IDEA, ADA, how to read testing data, how to write a SMART goal, and accommodations or services that should be in place. But a really great advocate will help you navigate the IEP conversation, keeping you included in the conversation and asking you about your vision for your child.

A great resourse for finding a local advocate is COPAA. Keep in mind your advocate does not have to be local. I coach parents all over the country and attend meetings virtually. But, if you want an advocate in the room with you COPPA is a great place to start.