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When Are Advocates Necessary?

How to Know When Special Education Advocates Might Be Needed

By

Updated June 09, 2014

Advocates in special education can help parents get important services for their children with disabilities. Most people use them when schools or other service providers deny services, treatments, or equipment a child needs. When weighing whether to involve advocates, parents should ask for specific reasons their requests for services are being denied. When determining the need for advocates, parents should carefully consider what they are wanting and whether or not a representative can actually help:
  • Is the service or accommodation a want or a need for my child?
  • Will I (or my child) still meet learning goals without this item or service, although it may take longer or may not be the method I would prefer?
  • Is my request based on sound research?
  • Is there a possibility that the item or service could be ineffective or harmful?
  • Is this item or service experimental or not a mainstream method?
  • Is my request reasonable?

If parents believe the service is valid and necessary, they may want to consider consulting advocates for help if they are not getting reasonable responses from the school district.

Who can be special education advocates, and where can I find one?

Advocates come from all walks of life and various professions. There is no formal license or certification, and many of them have learned from their own experiences. You can find representatives through:

  • Resources in your state;
  • Your state's department of education;
  • An area mental health agency or local health department;
  • Non-profit organizations serving people with disabilities;
  • A school or private social worker or counselor; or
  • Referral from other parents of children with disabilities.

How to Tell if Special Education Advocates Are Right for You

  • Look for advocates with experience in your disability area. If none are available, find a support person who has a good track record of successful negotiations.
  • Ask for references. Ask references about the advocate's level of knowledge, professionalism, and effectiveness. If possible, talk with others who are familiar with the representative who can provide an unbiased critique of his services.
  • At minimum, advocates should have a good working knowledge of special education law. Professionals with formal training are preferable if available.
  • Look for advocates who will be honest with you and not just tell you what he thinks you want to hear.
  • Look for an advocate who is supportive and realistic about what she can do for you.
  • Ask about fees, and have the advocate write out exactly what services you will get for those fees. Representatives may be available at no cost to you through government agencies. When fees are involved, be especially careful. Unfortunately there are unethical advocates who would prey upon your misfortune. Trust your instincts. If you do not feel comfortable with the advocate's fees, look elsewhere.

Beware of advocates who:

  • make promises that seem too good to be true;
  • claim they are the only ones who can help you;
  • promise to win money or help you get rich;
  • seem overly dramatic or antagonistic to you or the service provider;
  • drag out the process or charge you despite little progress in your case;
Follow your instincts when determining if advocates are right for you. Steer clear of those who use scare tactics and increase your anxiety. Avoid representatives who are overly critical or slanderous toward your service provider. Be skeptical of advocates who waste your time or your provider's time with scare tactics, harassment, and game-playing. Never allow your representative to act without discussing strategies with you and your giving permission.

What is the best negotiating style for advocates for learning disabled students?

Advocates' styles may vary a great deal, and only you can decide if you are comfortable with that style. Some are calm but effective negotiators who win your cause by presenting your request with solid data to support it. Others are highly aggressive and may attempt to intimidate to get the matter resolved to your preferences.

Whatever approach is used, it is important to:

  • Ensure your request is appropriate and reasonable.
  • Ensure representatives do not destroy any hope of your working with the school district or provider in the future. Good advocates should not make you dependent on them for life.
  • Ensure you have solid data to support your request, such as recommendations from physicians. Data and other supporting information that clearly shows why the service or item is needed can help your case.
  • Determine in advance whether you could or would compromise if appropriate.
  • Ensure you know what the likely objections to your request will be and what your response to those objections will be.

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