Special Education Advocates: Are They Worth Hiring?

For many Autism Moms, Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meetings can seem quite intimidating. This is a huge meeting with school officials and . to determine whether or not a student is eligible for special education and to develop the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your eligible student. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. From discussing which therapies your child will receive through the school to discussing the benefits vs harmful effects these therapies, or lack thereof, will have on your child, there are many factors to be considered during an ARD meeting.

Some school districts are great about working diligently with parents to help provide the best resources for each student. But, what happens when certain school districts are not so helpful and accomodating? What happens when the school did an evaluation, and the results look like they describe a completely different child? What happens when you, as a parent, know that your child needs occupational therapy, but they’re convinced he doesn’t need it at all? That’s when Autism Moms have to fight to get their children the resources they need and deserve. Sometimes, that’s still not enough though. That’s where Special Education Advocates come in.

Special Education Advocates are professionals who work hard to advocate for your child. They offer services from parent training and education on how to have better success during ARD meetings to actually going with you to ARD meetings and advocating for your child to get the resources they deserve. Here are ten reasons to hire a Special Education Advocate:

1. Level the Playing Field

Have you ever been to an ARD meeting for your child and been told by the school district, “We cannot do that?” Did you ever wonder whether what they were saying was actually true? When you work with a Special Education Advocate, you will understand your rights and what the school district’s obligations really are. This will help level the playing field for you and make navigating the ARD meeting easier.

2. Alphabet Soup

FAPE, LRE, IDEA, 504, NCLB, IEP, IFSP, CSE, CPSE, EI, etc. In order to effectively advocate for your child you must know the lingo. Terms may be used at an ARD/IEP meeting that you do not understand.  This immediately puts you at a disadvantage. A Special Education Advocate can help you understand how these terms apply to your child.

3. Understanding Testing

School psychologists, special education teachers, and other related services professionals have gone to school for many years to understand how to test and interpret results.  Most parents, however, are not trained in the language that is used to report data. A Special Education Advocate can review your evaluations, progress reports, and other data and explain to you what they mean, how they apply to your child, and what services your child may or may not be entitled to based on those results.

4. Did the District Forget Anything?

Do you think your child would benefit from Assistive Technology? Is it time to discuss transition? Has your child been having behaviors in school that impact his or her learning, and you believe that the district has not tried everything they could have tried yet? A Special Education Advocate can assist you in ensuring you have gotten all appropriate services for your child.

5. Goals!

Your child’s goals are one of the most important components of their Individualized Education Program, yet they are also one of the most overlooked components of your child’s IEP.  Goals need to be meaningful. They should not be the same from year to year. Instead, they should be individualized. Additionally, goals should be developed with parental input. A Special Education Advocate can assist you in developing individualized and meaningful goals for your child.

6. The IEP Document

Did you ever receive your child’s IEP, and it did not accurately reflect what occurred at your meeting? Your IEP is your “contract” with your school district.  If something does not appear in the IEP, then it does not have to happen, whether it was discussed at the ARD meeting or not. A Special Education Advocate can help you review your IEP and make sure that all necessary information and services are contained in it.

7. You have So Many Roles

As a parent of a child with Autism, you have many roles at the ARD meeting; these include being the parent, the listener, the questioner, the active team member, the creative thinker, and an advocate. It is impossible to play all of these roles well. You also may not be comfortable with one or more of these roles. Bringing a Special Education Advocate to your ARD meeting takes the burden off of you in having to serve in all of these necessary, yet very different capacities.

8. Take the Emotions Out Of It

Let’s face it. We tend to get emotional when speaking about our children. Being a parent of a special needs child myself, I will be the first to admit that I cried at my own son’s very first ARD meeting. And, because of that, I had some difficulty being able to get my point across when I was emotional. However, I quicky learned that this is a business meeting, and I needed to keep emotions out if it in order to fight for my child. Having a Special Education Advocate at your ARD meeting will allow you to participate while also taking the emotions out of it. This means that you’ll be better able to keep a clear mind about everything, which will give you a better chance at success in your child’s ARD meeting.

9. Your Child is Not Making Meaningful Progress

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. You may feel that your child is not making progress in their current program. If this is the case, it is important that you speak with a Special Education Advocate to do an analysis of your child’s progress, or lack thereof, and assist you in obtaining the program and/or services your child requires to make meaningful progress.

10. You Do Not Agree

In a perfect world, we would all come out of an ARD meeting with everything our children are entitled to. Many parents wrongly walk away without needed services when they are initially denied during the ARD meeting. If you feel that your child is not receiving all of the appropriate services from your school district, it is extremely important to speak to a Special Education Advocate to know whether you have a right to a particular service or accommodation for your child and what your next steps should be.

While we at AMAB wish none of our fellow Autism Moms ever had to worry or fret about needing a Special Education Advocate, the reality is that they are greatly needed. This is why Special Education Advocates are incredibly valued in our Autism Community. If you are having trouble agreeing on assessments, accommodations, or plans with your child’s school and district, you aren’t alone. And, you do have rights. They’re clearly spelled out in the federal Notice of Procedural Safeguards. And, we highly encourage all Autism Moms to educate themselves on what their rights are. Good luck to all the Autism Moms gearing up for their children’s ARD meetings! Autism Moms, you truly rock the universe!

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