Five Essential Skills for Becoming Your Child's Advocate
Learning the essential skills to become your child's advocate and ensure your child receives an appropriate education does not require lots of money or even years of schooling. All it requires is learning five basic skills and consistently implementing them within the school community.
Skill 1: Become informed about your child's learning disability.
Understand your child's strengths and weaknesses, as well as the strategies that enable your child to compensate for weaknesses or deal with challenging activities.
Example: My child has a great deal of difficulty organizing his materials. We have found that color-coding all of his school materials, as well as keeping everything in a single zippered binder, allows him to keep track of his work. When he is rushing between classes, he can simply throw papers into his binder and zip it up. We can help organize the papers at home, keeping papers from getting lost in the bottom of the backpack or -- worse still -- in the black hole!
Skill 2: Learn about your child's educational rights.
Three federal statutes guarantee your child's access to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as well as accommodations as a person with a disability. The three federal laws are:
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004)
Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act
- Title II of the American Disabilities Act
By becoming knowledgeable about your parental rights, as well as those of your child, you become an informed consumer. Remember: knowledge is power! Parents who understand how schools are run, what schools are required to provide, and how services should be provided find much less resistance in securing appropriate services for their child.
Example: My son has a writing disability. The very act of handwriting is laborious for him. In lecture classes, he often missed 75 percent of the information presented because he was focused on trying to copy down what was on the board. Through his educational plan, we requested that he receive copies of classroom notes, be able to tape record his lectures, and have access to a word processor. This has increased his ability to participate in classroom discussions and to focus on the information presented because he is no longer worrying about copying information off the board.
However, had I not known I could make requests for accommodations through the school child study team or IEP team, he would have continued to struggle and fail in his classes. With these three simple accommodations, he is able to excel in his academic classes and compete with his peers who are not learning disabled.
Skill 3: Learn to become a clear communicator.
Be sure to document all conversations in writing, especially verbal conversations and meetings with any member of the school community. It is essential for you as a parent to have accurate records and written documentation. These summarize all conversations and document your understanding about the next steps or follow-up actions to be taken concerning your child.
By requesting written information, by documenting in writing, and by allowing others to respond in writing clarifying your interpretations, you create a paper trail that can be used in court, if necessary. More often, it provides a reminder about what has been agreed upon and who is responsible for ensuring that your child’s needs are met.
I strongly suggest parents organize their child’s school records in a binder to ensure they have it all in one central location. I frequently recommend that parents include the following sections in their binders:
Educational plans (Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 accommodation plan)
Educational assessments and State testing results
Communication log and copies of all emails
Requests for services
Teacher notes (positive and negative)
Any other written documents pertaining to your child's education
Example: I have found that by clarifying all conversations in writing, as well as keeping copies of all written communications, I am able to eliminate forgotten conversations or he-said/she-said situations. This is particularly helpful when I have to advocate for my child during a time of stress or conflict.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. © 1999-2009 National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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