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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 relationship.
 

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.

 

 


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Last update: Monday, April 12, 2010