Special Ed Advocacy: Nine Rules of Thumb
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Because the stakes are so high, it is very difficult for parents of children with special educational needs to advocate calmly and objectively for the educational and related services their children need. Nevertheless, calmness, objectivity, and a third quality -- patience for the long haul -- are the parents' most important tools in a complex and often frustrating process. In the course of that process, here are a few rules of thumb I have found to be helpful to parents.
Rule One: Build a Reliable Team Around Your Child
The first step in building a reliable team is to find independent evaluators who can help you understand and advocate for your child. Other members of your support team may include a trained educational advocate who can help you understand the procedural steps and think through strategies as well as attend meetings and help you make your case. (As a general rule, an expert evaluator should not also be your advocate; the skills are different, and an evaluator is more credible if allowed simply to comment as an expert in your child's needs.)
Be sure to find an advocate who has the experience and judgment to help you work cooperatively and effectively with your school system rather than to enter with all guns blazing right from the start. It also is helpful to connect with parents of other children with similar disabilities in and out of your school district -- groups from whom you can receive both emotional and informational support as you advocate.
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