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Sheryl Frishman
BY Sheryl Frishman

Ten Reasons Why You Should Have an Advocate For Your Child with Special Needs

Parents of a child with special needs will do anything they can to make sure their child is happy and in a supportive environment. When it comes to discussing your child’s education with his or her teachers and the school’s administration many parents feel they can handle it on their own.

Here are ten reasons why you should consider hiring an advocate or attorney to help get everything you want for your child.

1. Level the Playing Field

Have you ever been to a Committee on Special Education (CSE) meeting for your child and been told by the school district “we cannot do that?” Did you ever wonder whether what they were saying were true?  When you work with a special education attorney or qualified special education advocate you will understand your rights and the school district’s obligations.  This will level the playing field for you.

2. Alphabet Soup

FAPE, LRE, IDEA, 504, NCLB, IEP, IFSP, CSE, CPSE, EI etc. etc etc.  In order to effectively advocate for your child you must know the lingo.  Terms may be used at a CSE or IEP meeting that you do not understand.  This immediately puts you at a disadvantage.  A special education attorney or qualified advocate can help you understand how these terms apply to your child.

3. Understanding Testing

School psychologists, special education teachers, and other related services professionals have gone to school for many years to understand how to test and interpret results.  Most parents are not trained in the language that is used to report data.

A special education attorney or qualified special education advocate can review your evaluations, progress reports, and other data and explain to you what they mean, how they apply to your child, and what services your child may or may not be entitled to based on those results.

4. Did the District Forget Anything?

Do you think your child would benefit from Assistive Technology?  Is it time to discuss transition? Has your child been having behaviors in school that impact his or her learning and you believe that the district has not tried everything they could?  A special education attorney or qualified advocate can assist you in ensuring you have gotten all appropriate services for your child.

5. Goals!

Your child’s goals are one of the most important, yet also one of the most overlooked, components of the Individualized Education Program (IEP).  Goals need to be meaningful, should not be the same from year to year, and should be individualized.   Additionally, goals should be developed with parental input. A special education attorney or qualified advocate can assist you in developing individualized and meaningful goals for your child.

6. The IEP Document

Did you ever receive your child’s IEP and it did not accurately reflect what occurred at your meeting? Your IEP is your “contract” with your school district.  If something does not appear in the IEP then it does not have to happen whether it was discussed at the CSE meeting or not.  A special education attorney or qualified special education advocate can help you review your IEP and make sure that all necessary information and services are contained in it.

7. You have So Many Roles

As a parent of a child with special needs you have many roles at the CSE meeting; these include being the parent, the listener, the questioner, the active team member, the creative thinker and an advocate.  It is virtually impossible to do all these roles well.  You also may not be comfortable with one or more of these roles.  Bringing a qualified special education advocate, and in certain circumstances, a special education attorney, to your CSE meeting takes the burden off of you in having to serve in all of these necessary, yet different, capacities.

8. Take the Emotions out of It

Let’s face it; we get emotional when speaking about our children.  Even though I have been a special education attorney for many years, being a parent of a special needs child myself, I have been known to cry at my own son’s CSE meeting and am not always able to get my point across when I am emotional.  I cannot stress enough that this is a business meeting and parents need to keep emotions out if it.

Having a qualified special education advocate, and in certain circumstances, a special education attorney, at your CSE meeting will allow you to participate taking the emotions out of it.

9. Your Child is Not Making Meaningful Progress

As a parent you know your child better than anyone else.  You may feel that your child is not making progress in their current program.  If this is the case, it is important that you speak with a special education attorney or qualified special education advocate to do an analysis of your child’s progress, or lack thereof, and assist you in obtaining the program and/or services your child requires to make meaningful progress.

10. You Do Not Agree

In a perfect world we would all come out of a CSE meeting with everything our children are entitled to.  Many parents wrongly walk away without needed services when they are initially denied by the CSE. If you feel that your child is not receiving all of the appropriate services from your school district, it is extremely important to speak to a special education attorney to know whether you have a right to a particular service or accommodation for your child and what your next steps should be.

Sheryl Frishman

Written on August 20, 2012 by:

Sheryl Frishman is of Counsel to the law firm of Barger & Gaines.  and has worked almost exclusively with people with disabilities and their families for over 18 years. She is an expert in the areas of special education, disability and special needs law, and is a sought after speaker for professional and family organizations. In addition to Sheryl’s legal work, she is a zealous advocate for the needs, acceptance, and integration of people with disabilities in the community. Sheryl is involved and active in many organizations in the disability community including taking leadership roles in many of them. This includes being a current board member of The Arc of the USA, the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. Sheryl has been the recipient of many award and honors for her work in the special needs community. Her eldest son, Aaron, has Autism, and is her inspiration.
  • Sandra Bishins

    I am an advocate, recently relocated to MD from NJ. I am also the parent of a young adult with special needs and former participant in Friendship Circle. Feel free to contact me at [email protected]

  • This is a very informative piece. I am one of those who thinks she can do it all and #7 and #8 really drove the point home for me. I can ‘do it all’ sometimes, but not when it comes to my own kids! Thank you for this insight.
    Sandra thanks for sharing you information. I may contact you as we live in MD and my daughter will be three in January and transitioning.

  • stuart nachbar

    I am a special needs advocate in New Jersey w/ a special needs child and have been his advocate for quite some time.

  • Ikram

    ACCESS is an initiative by few professionals and parents to advocate parents about their children needs and how to mobilize them in order to fulfill those needs in order to promote right of special needs children. It’s really informative and encouraging.

  • Sheryl, you always write so succinctly and completely. You
    mentioned twice here about things mentioned in the CSE meeting that are omitted
    from the IEP. That has happened to me EVERY YEAR. I work hours with my twins
    daily and the school system grabs the credit even though they do little to move
    the guys forward. I will say that the school system DID support me in moving
    the guys forward socially, so they understand behavior parameters and while
    they do still have some issues there, those issues are not too different from
    typical adolescents coping with hormonal and peer changes (TG!) So now it’s
    time for me and the school to focus on academics.

    I would like to suggest, Sheryl, that you lead a workshop
    for parents to write the documents you always suggest that lawyers like you,
    and educators need. I think often about writing the “letter” you always mention
    about what I want for my sons after I am gone, but have never gotten around to writing
    it. Not because I don’t know, but rather because time is so scarce and unless
    someone provides the time, space, guidance and vehicle to create these
    documents, they probably won’t happen soon enough. If you could pls collaborate
    with Betty Crea Davidson (probably one of your competitors, but also one of
    your cohorts) and Navigating the Spectrum, I’d bet you’d have to rent a huge
    venue to hold all the parents who would attend, maybe a conference room at
    Doubletree or Sheraton or Marriot. I would definitely come. Advise people to
    bring computers, internet access and a few printers, and VOILA! You’ve got a
    workshop that can turn out working documents for these parents.

    Crystallizing and writing those IEP goals that are essential
    and targeted to each child’s needs would also be a big part of the workshop.

    What do you think?

  • Amy

    We just moved to a new school district, because of losing our home and I have been crushed. My son has an IEP and we are supposed to have a “move in Meeting” with new school but they said they are “behind” with this and we went over his IEP and it’s supposedly carrying over from the other school. My son is in fifth grade and has a diagnosis of OHI, other health impaired due to ADHD, some autistic tendencies and anxiety. He also receives speech services. He started Wed. and already I feel like the new school is frustrated with him and calling him “non-compliant”. I just wanna cry. I’m so upset over this, because it took so long for the other school district to get to know my son, and this year I felt was finally going to be better. Well now that we had to move I had to start all over and I’m not having a good feeling so far. Anyone know where I can find a good advocate in NW Indiana, Porter County> Valparaiso?
    Thank you so much,

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