How Do I Know if I Need an Advocate? What Do They Do?
Everyone takes their own path to advocacy, if at all. So, how do you know if hiring an advocate is right for you? Ask yourself these questions:
Do I feel comfortable at my child's IEP meetings?
Do I feel like my input is taken into consideration at the IEP meetings?
Is my child experiencing success with their IEP?
If you answered "no" to any of the above questions, then hiring an advocate might be for you!
Once you've decided to look into having an advocate, you might be wondering what advocates actually do.
Meet Parents Where They Are in the Process
Some families I help are in the beginning stages of their journey into special education. Their child may not have had a school based evaluation yet. That's ok! I can help. Some families I advocate for have been in special education for years and are tired of feeling unheard and steamrolled. That's ok, too. I can help.
I will review any documentation the family can provide - pupil appraisal evaluations, private evaluations, previous 504 plans/IAPs, IEPs, progress reports, report cards, etc. These documents give me insight into the student's strengths and areas of need. After reviewing the documentation, I will compare it to the current IAP/IEP to make sure that the student is receiving all of the services for which they qualify.
After reviewing the available documents and speaking with the parents, I will make recommendations based on 17 years of special education experience.
Make a Plan
Before meeting with the school, I will work with the parents to make a plan of action. We will decide on the most important battles to fight to help the student experience success at school.
Do the Talking
Many parents don't want to speak at the meeting, and that's ok. I will confer with the parents before the meeting about how much they want to speak and how much they want to be spoken for. I am comfortable with doing the majority of the talking and also comfortable just being present to monitor the meeting and the outcome, it really is all about what makes the family feel most comfortable.
Monitor the legality of what the school is saying
Many parents have indicated that they just don't know how much of what the school says is true and what is "fake news." Throughout the meeting, I will ensure that what is being shared is aligned with federal law IDEA - Individuals with Disabilities Education Act - and state and local policies. I take my job very seriously and am not afraid to bring up topics and discussions to make sure that the parents'concerns are heard and addressed.
Help to Develop a Strong Plan
Throughout the meeting, I will listen, give input, and work with the parents and school personnel to make sure that the plan is strong and meets the unique needs of the student.
You will notice that, at the meeting, I am always writing! After the meeting, I type up my notes so that the parents and I have accurate, comprehensive notes about what was discussed and decided. These notes can come in handy if the issue is not resolved or other challenges emerge.
After the meeting, I remain a resource for families! Some families call me year after year at IEP time, when unexpected issues arise, and if they just need an educational topic explained. I love following up with clients!
If you have any additional questions, please feel free to ask! I'd love to help you and your child get on a positive track for a meaningful, happy educational experience!