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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.