Parents of children with all types of disabilities or gifted abilities requiring special education services can turn for help to a Special Education Advocate.
Education Advocates are dedicated to advocacy that is child focused and addresses the unique educational needs of each child. The qualifications of Advocates vary and many have specialized expertise in specific disabilities. Special Education Advocates have been professionally trained, or have comparable experience, to facilitate legally sufficient and educationally effective outcomes for children with disabilities. It is important that parents find an advocate that is experienced and has specific knowledge of their child’s area of disability.
Role of an Education Advocate
The role of an Education Advocate is extensive. Special Education Advocates can help parents navigate the IEP or 504 process and increase their understanding of the basic regulatory principles related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) including:
- Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
- Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
- Procedural Safeguards and
- Disability Accommodations
An advocate can facilitate the IEP or 504 process so that the parent feels like an equal part of the educational team. They are also able to assist parents with establishing and increasing effective communication with school district personnel.
Additionally, advocates can facilitate the development of an individualized educational plan with an awareness of a continuum of services and placements available so as to promote the acquisition of free appropriate public education (FAPE).
An advocate can also assist in the identification of educational needs and make referrals to local professionals to diagnose or treat a child if necessary. They are capable of assisting in the development of behavioral interventions that appropriately deal with disability associated disruptive behaviors and behaviors that interfere with a child accessing his/her education.
Finally, Special Education Advocates may provide advice and accompany clients to IEP or due process hearings, but may not act as a representative. Keep in mind that advocates are not lawyers but can effectively assist parents in managing the time spent resolving differences. When necessary, an advocate can and should make referrals to attorneys.
Costs Associated With Advocacy Services
Special Education Advocates typically charge by the hour with fees varying widely. If fees are a hardship, never hesitate to advise the advocate. Free advocacy services are also often available from local county or state agencies. Before entering into a contract with an Education Advocate, parents should interview the potential advocate. In particular, inquire as to their training, background, depth of experience and areas of expertise to ensure that they have experience in the child’s area of need.
Ultimately, a parent’s choice to involve a Special Education Advocates can play a significant role in successfully assisting parents navigate the complex special education system in a time efficient and cost effective manner.