Advocacy Begins With You:
Special Education Advocacy
By Nakeisha Ferguson, M.A., Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services
Advocacy is defined as the act of speaking or writing in support of something. While organizations such as MO Protection & Advocacy, MO Planning Council, and the UMKC-Institute for Human Development offer helpful resources and services, advocacy really begins with you. This article is designed to offer suggestions in increasing self-advocacy for individuals and their families with disabilities.
In Special Education, parents have the primary responsibility
of ensuring their child’s rights are upheld. IDEA and other laws
that protect the rights of children with disabilities were enacted
mainly through the efforts of parents. According to MPACT (Missouri
Parents Act), as a parent, you are your child’s most important advocate
for his or her healthcare, education, and overall development. In
addition, parents also serve as models for their children in learning
how to communicate effectively and advocate for themselves. That
is why parents must become effective communicators and advocates.
Here are several suggestions that may help you to advocate for
your child or yourself. First, you must believe in your rights.
Remember that you are an equal partner with the professionals working
to help your child. This concept is the basis for a good advocacy
It is also important to have a clear vision. Knowing what you
are hoping for in your child’s future can be helpful for teachers
and staff. Be realistic and optimistic in all of your goals.
Organization and prioritization is very important as well. Set
up a home filing system to record information, contacts, records,
evaluations and IEP’s. This will assist in the decision making as
well as choosing the most important issues for your child.
Additionally, understanding your child’s disability is necessary
in advocating for them. Knowing how your child’s disability affects
his/her need to learn puts you at an advantage when offering suggestions.
In many cases, parents usually know more about their child’s specific
disability than the school professional involved in decision making.
Being Familiar with the laws that affect the rights of your child
is very important as well. Take advantage of classes that may be
offered that explain the laws and your rights and responsibilities
as a parent in the special education process.
If you have any concerns or issues you want to address, follow
the chain of command and start by talking to the teacher. Give the
teacher the opportunity to address your question. Be sure to offer
solutions when you discuss problems and remain principled and persistent
in receiving an answer and fixing the situation.
Finally, develop a sense of humor. Being able to smile in the
hardest times can help the entire process.
For more information about advocating for your child, contact MO P&A at 1-800-392-8667, TDD 1-800-735-2966 or visit us on the web at www.moadvocacy.org.
** from the Missouri Disability Network Newsletter—January 2004. Used with permission.
Last update: Monday, April 12, 2010