Let’s be honest: the special education system is not user-friendly, especially for parents and guardians. Whether you are seeking special education services, if your student already has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or your student has a Section 504 plan needing to transition to an IEP, the jargon and process can be overwhelming. There are abbreviations, there’s a process that needs to be followed and you just don’t know who you can trust to support you and your student. Enter the IEP advocate. Keep reading to learn more about why you want to bring a Special Education Advocate onto your student’s learning team.
What is a Special Education Advocate?
In short, a special education advocate acts as your liaison between yourself and the school district, empowering you to have a voice in the special education and/or Section 504 process. An IEP advocate is someone who collaborates with you to resolve challenges you may be having with your student’s school. They should have specialized knowledge of the special education and Section 504 systems, as well as in working with students with special needs. A special education advocate should have some personal experience with students with special needs, such as Autism, dyslexia or learning disabilities. This may mean they have actual teaching experience, or perhaps they are a parent of a student with special needs.
The advantage of working with a special needs advocate who has actual school district experience, be it teaching or administration, is that they have unique insights into how the school system works. Unfortunately, there is a “dance” or “game” that is sometimes played by school districts. An IEP advocate with district experience is going to understand how that works and how to navigate that system. A special education advocate with school district experience is also going to know the right people to contact to facilitate quick resolution to your student’s situation.
A good special education advocate will walk you through the special education process, explaining things to you in a clear, understandable way. They will seek your input as to your concerns with what is happening in the school and provide insights into where the system is breaking down for your student. A special needs advocate will coach you through participating in IEP and 504 meetings that you may find to be intimidating. A special education advocate may “case manage” your student’s IEP or 504 plan, allowing you to just be the parent as opposed to trying to keep track of documents, timelines and follow up.
Most importantly, a highly qualified IEP advocate will be able to review your student’s case and advise you on its strength before referring you to a special education attorney. The special needs advocate will know when a case is ready for due process, if it can be resolved through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) or if it can be better addressed through an IEP meeting.
What qualifications should a Special Education Advocate have?
Currently, there is no licensure or certification required to be an IEP advocate. An advocate for students with special needs may take a certification course through private organizations or universities, but the information provided through those courses may be inconsistent.
A special education advocate who has worked in the public school system will have at least one type of credential, if not more: teaching, administrative or designated instruction. An IEP advocate who has worked within a school district will have direct, hands-on professional experience which gives them a leading edge to support your student.
A special needs advocate should be a member of one or more professional organizations related to special education advocacy. This could be the International Dyslexia Association, the Council for Parent Advocates and Attorneys or, if the IEP advocate is also an educational consultant, the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs. When a special education advocate is involved in professional organizations, it means they are continuing their professional development and staying on top of current trends. You might also see special education advocates are involved on the boards of various community organizations.
How could a Special Education Advocate help my student get an IEP?
An advocate for students with special needs will understand the assessment process needed to get your student an IEP. They will understand the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) as well as your state’s education code which will allow them to know timelines and procedures for getting the school district to provide your student with an assessment plan for special education testing. You can learn more about how to obtain a special education assessment for your student here.
After ensuring the school district provides a special education assessment plan for your student, the IEP advocate will review draft reports, explain the implications and findings of the reports to you and attend the IEP meeting with you. This ensures you have a voice in the IEP meeting and that you understand why your student does or does not qualify for an IEP, special education and related services. If your student qualifies for an IEP, a special needs advocate will work with you and the IEP team to establish a solid, meaningful and appropriate IEP for your student.
My student already has an IEP. How can a Special Education Advocate help me?
If your student already has an IEP but they still aren’t making progress, you may want to hire an IEP advocate. A special needs advocate will review your student’s cumulative file to pinpoint where the special education system is breaking down, preventing your student from excelling. A special education advocate will advise you on what services are available, including support for dyslexia, behavior intervention plans and mental health issues. She will read the educational records and determine whether your student’s IEP services and accommodations are appropriate based on your student’s individual needs.
In preparing for an IEP meeting, a special education advocate will review your current IEP, looking for issues that are preventing your student from making progress. An IEP advocate will know how to determine what goals are appropriate and how those goals should be written to be both measurable and effective. She will know how to decide if the IEP services being offered are appropriate. She should communicate this to you and the IEP team prior to the meeting so the school district is aware of your concerns ahead of time.
A special education advocate will draft and send communication to the school district on your behalf that meets legal and district requirements, such as a request for an Individualized Educational Evaluation (IEE). A special needs advocate will also prepare state-level complaints or make requests for Alternative Dispute Resolution meetings to assist you in avoiding due process.
How do I Learn More and Hire a Special Education Advocate?
There are many resources available online to assist you in your search for a special education advocate. However, you want the best school advocate to support your student in their launch toward success. The special education advocates and educational consultants at AdvocacySD are highly skilled professionals with over 23 years of experience in special education. Each advocate is fully credentialed and holds advanced degrees in the field of special education, educational administration and the law. AdvocacySD special needs advocates are members of multiple professional organizations and active committee members within those organizations. The qualifications of the IEP advocates at AdvocacySD give you a leading edge in supporting your student in obtaining what they need from the school system. Contact us today to find out more about how AdvocacySD special needs advocates can help your student make progress and achieve their IEP goals.