As a parent and advocate for over 25 years, I often become frustrated by how long it takes to successfully advocate for one child (even my own children)! Sometimes it seems like I am banging my head against a wall (giving myself a concussion), with little to no outcome. I was recently reminded that advocacy is difficult by its very nature, but even when it seems like I have not done much or the parent has not done much—the child can really benefit!
1. I was helping parents in another state with their high school son’s education. Things had gotten very bad at school for the young man, and the school wanted to send him to an alternative school. I immediately began working with the mother and educating her on IDEA 2004 and discipline laws. I read letters, helped her write letters, worked on a settlement with the school, and encouraged her to keep fighting despite how bad things were. The situation worsened, and the young man left school-which was frustrating for his parents and me! Imagine my surprise when a few months later I received an E-mail from his mother with a picture of his high school diploma! I am so excited for the young man, and I realized that if his parents and I had not fought for him, he probably never would have graduated! Great outcome!
2. I advocated for a child with autism for over a year. The young man could not read, was delayed in all academic areas, and had developed school phobia. In my advocacy, I had to do a lot of educating of the school staff about dyslexia; research based instruction, as well as extended school year services. Another issue is that the school district insisted on bringing their attorney to all IEP meetings; even after giving them a copy of the OSEP policy letter to Clinton discouraging this practice. After a year, we had made some inroads, and the parents (and I) decided they would try on their own (with me helping them by phone etc.). After I stopped coming to meetings the school district stopped having their attorney attend IEP meetings—and the treatment of the parents is somewhat better. The young man is learning academically and no longer has school phobia-awesome!
There are success stories in special education advocacy; and here is what you can do to increase the chance of success for your child:
1. Assertive and persistent advocacy for as long as it takes. Sometimes advocacy is like a long journey, rather than a short one! Hang in there and you will be glad you did!
2. If your child is having difficulty with reading it is critical that you find accurate information on dyslexia, to use in your advocacy, and research based ways to deal with the disability. Try this link to the International Dyslexia Association ( http://www.interdys.org/ ).
3. Learn about best practices in special education for your child’s disability, and advocate for them. For example: ABA is still considered best practice for children with autism.
4. Call your states PTIC and ask about free or low cost advocacy trainings. You will not only learn lots, but you will be able to connect with other parents!
5. Consider the use of a qualified experienced advocate-this can often go a long way in advocacy success! Make sure that the advocate has experience with your states dispute resolution processes.
6. If the school continues to deny and/or delay needed services consider using the dispute resolution processes (due process, mediation, and state complaints).
Advocacy success stories to exist and this article has given you a few examples. You have also learned some dragon slaying tips to work toward your own child’s success story! Good luck!