How to Advocate for Students in Special Education

Parents of a child with a disability must learn to effectively navigate the maze of special education laws and go to bat for their kids. In a nutshell, this means they must learn to be advocates.


Learn All You Can About Your Child's Disability

Hispanic mother watching son practicing writing alphabet
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Information is power, and parents and guardians need to start with the facts about their child's disability. Parents need to have knowledge from their child's doctors, specialists, special education experts, attorneys, teachers, and anyone else who can provide information. Also as important, parents also need to be aware of the lived experiences of disabled people, which comes from listening to their child and reading up on the experiences of adults with their child’s disability.


Ask Lots of Questions and Listen to Answers

Become like a reporter: Ask questions like, "who, what, where, when, why and when" and then listen carefully to the answers you receive.

Research relevant questions and then document responses instead of simply relying on your memory.

Learn how to best ask questions and don't come across as antagonistic or defensive to get the best open and honest replies.


Become a Pseudo-Lawyer in Special Education Law

Guardians and parents of kids in special education don't truly need to become lawyers; however, it is good to become extremely knowledgeable about special education law. Learn the details behind the federal law that effectively created special education, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).


Always Avoid the Blame Game

An adversarial relationship between parents and teachers is typically never in the best interest of the child. It's sometimes easy to fall into the trap of blaming others or even pointing the finger at bureaucracy for disappointments or a particular situation. But the blame doesn't typically result in anything more than bad feelings and an ill-willed situation. Instead, avoid blame, and try the opposite approach. Keep calm, know the facts, and advocate about meeting your kid's unique needs.


Be a Problem-Solver, Not a Problem-Maker

Working together to solve problems with a child's teacher or childcare provider typically nets better results than becoming a problem maker. Propose solutions or create a possible plan that works best for child-guardian-provider/teacher. Be open-minded and hear proposed solutions from the educational side as well.

This does not mean you do not speak up if your child has been harmed. Rather, it means ensuring that as a guardian, you are not acting as a stumbling block in the process of getting your child an appropriate education.


Think Long-Term and Become a Futurist

Parents and guardians not only have the responsibility of planning their child's education and requirements today; they are also faced with the difficult task of thinking long-term. For example, are you also getting your child involved in extracurriculars to form what might be a lifelong hobby or pursuit?

In other words, parents must be active futurists in setting up their child's successful life down the road.


Become a Master Planner

Parents typically have goals for their kids, and families of students with disabilities, in particular, should establish goals along with a strategy to obtain them. It is also important that you communicate these goals to your child in a method they understand and involve them in the setting of such goals as they get older.


Really Get to Know Your Child Care Provider or Teacher

Don't assume that childcare providers or teachers don't want to meet your child's needs and provide educational benefits. Most do. However, a wide range of need combined with limited resources often creates the potential for conflict between what reasonably can be provided vs. what guardians and parents believe is best for their kids. Parents and providers/teachers should do everything possible to establish a positive, partnership-based learning approach and team together.

By Robin McClure
 Robin McClure is a public school administrator and author of 6 parenting books.