Tips for Working Effectively with Your Special Education Advocate or Parent Consultant

By Elizabeth Bostic, Parent Consultant

advocateBeing the parent of a child with special needs comes with a unique set of challenges, not the least of which is advocating for them in their school. Navigating the special education system, deciphering the law, and interacting with school personnel can be emotionally challenging. Some parents have found help by working with a trained Parent Consultant or Advocate. Hiring a Special Education Parent Consultant can provide you with expertise regarding the law, strategies for working collaboratively with your child’s Team, and the ability to address your child’s needs based on facts, not emotions. Here are some tips on how to partner with your Parent Consultant most effectively.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
In order to be most effective, your Parent Consultant will need access to all assessments, progress reports, and IEPs that have been generated in the recent past. Prepare a chronology of important school related occurrences with the dates for the last two years to give your Parent Consultant. Write down your concerns and share them with him or her. The more data you provide the better! Keep your Parent Consultant in the loop regarding ongoing relevant events and/or interactions with school personnel. This will enable your Parent Consultant to provide you with the best possible advice and ensure that he or she is not surprised by information raised for the first time during a Team meeting.

As the parent, you are the expert on your child. No one knows your child better than you. Be open, direct, and clear about your goals expectations for your child. Help your Parent Consultant to see your child as you do so he or she can advocate effectively for you.

Always Be Respectful
It is essential that you be respectful toward all members of your child’s IEP Team. When emotions run high, keep them in check; focus on your child and the important issues and facts. Having a difference of opinion is never an excuse for losing control. Always keep the big picture in view and don’t allow your emotions to get in the way of what is in the best interests of your child. Agree to disagree.

Trust Your Parent Consultant’s Expertise
Your Parent Consultant will give you a realistic view of what to expect and make recommendations on how to best work with your Team to address your child’s unique needs.

At times, your Parent Consultant may tell you something you don’t understand. Don’t be afraid to ask questions until you are clear about the reasoning behind the recommendations. Thoughtfully consider his or her input when determining your next step. Should you choose a different approach, your Parent Consultant will appreciate being informed so he or she can continue to support you effectively.

Have Realistic Expectations
Your Parent Consultant can assist you to identify the most appropriate accommodations, services and placement based on the data and assessments. He or she will help you work with your Team to ensure your child receives what the law guarantees, a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. While some services or methodologies may be ideal, they may not be necessary to facilitate effective progress. Similarly, what a child could benefit from does not always equate to an essential service. You want what is best for your child and your Parent Consultant can guide you to ensure that your child is positioned for success.