EDUDEAF: Advocating for Children

Key Words: Deaf education information, deafness related issues, parenting

Subj: Self Advocacy and IEP's
Date: 97-08-18 23:54:10 EDT
From: Mhssped@AOL.COM (Mariah Spanglet)
Sender: EDUDEAF@LSV.UKY.EDU (A Practical Discussion List Regarding Deaf Education)
Reply-to: EDUDEAF@LSV.UKY.EDU (A Practical Discussion List Regarding Deaf Education)
To: EDUDEAF@LSV.UKY.EDU (Multiple recipients of list EDUDEAF)



One of the things that I have learned as a parent of two children with special needs is how to effectively advocate for my children's rights. Let's face it ... it is a fact that sometime between now and graduation, we (as parents) will be forced to confront the school administrators, teachers, speech pathologists, audiologists, interpreters within the school district. This could take place in the form of an IEP, Administrative Review, Due Process or a 3-Member Hearing Panel. In order for us to effectively represent our children's' interests, it is important that we understand all the rights and redress of grievances set forth under federal and local legal statutes. Through the years I have had my share of disagreements with the school district here in St. Louis. I would like to share some ideas and suggestions with you. I hope you find the following comments and observations of interest, but the main purpose is to convey some ideas of how to more effectively represent your child's interest. IDEA and other laws that protect the rights of children with disabilities were passed primarily through the efforts of parents. Parents have the primary responsibility for ensuring that their child receives the "free appropriate public education" promised by those laws. As a parent you are your child's advocate from the moment of birth until your child becomes independent enough to become his/her own advocate. You are the lifetime member of the various planning teams for your child or young adult. The professionals on the team will change, but you will be the one constant team member. You bring the history, both medical , social, and academic to all meetings you attend. You are also the person your child looks to and models in learning how to speak up for himself/herself. As parents we want change, improvement, progress, quality of programs and services, as well as commitments from those who work with our children. We must learn how to accomplish our goals without making other defensive and resistive to our efforts. That is why you need to become an effective communicator and advocate.


BELIEVE IN YOUR RIGHTS BEFORE YOU BEGIN. Remember that you are an equal partner with the professionals in your child's team. This means you must also accept your share of the responsibility for solving programs and making plans for your child's services.

HAVE A CLEAR VISION -. It is important to be able to tell others what you are hoping for in your child's future without criticizing their suggestions or what has been done in the past. Be realistic and optimistic. While trying to achieve what is ideal, recognize when something is appropriate for your child.

BE ORGANIZED - Set up a home filing system for information, contacts, records, evaluations, IEP's, and any other documentation that you might need in the future. Sort documents by date or whatever method works for you. Invest in a few manila folders and mark contents clearly. It is hard to bean equal partner if you do not have the same information, so make sure that you have copies of ALL the documents you need and that you can easily refer to them. Put things in writing and keep a copy. Date all material and include the year. Don't ever let your only copy of a document leave your hand.

PRIORITIZE - Decide what the most important issue for your child is at this time. What are your child's needs? Write them all down on a piece of paper and prioritize them in order of importance. State them in positive terms. Expressing what you want for your child in a positive manner is less threatening.

UNDERSTAND YOUR CHILD'S DISABILITY and how that affects the way your child needs to learn and be taught in school. Think about medical issues, special accommodations and adaptations or assistive technology services that might be needed. Parents usually know more about their child's specific disability than the school professionals involved in decision making. Share your information with the school, draw on the expertise of both parents and teachers.

KNOW THE LAWS - You need to know what rights your child has under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, under ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), and under FERPA (Federal Education Right and Privacy Act). Try and read about these laws and attend as many workshops as you can to understand the laws and your responsibilities as a apparent in the special education process. Parent participation is a very important part of special education laws.

FOLLOW THE CHAIN OF COMMAND - If you have concerns or issues you want addressed in your child's classrooms, start by talking to the teacher. Allow the teacher the opportunity to address your questions and work towards solving any problem. No one likes someone to go over their heads without giving them a chance to straighten things out. But if you cannot obtain results at that level, find out who the person is who has the authority to make the necessary changes. Move up level by level. Don't spin the wheels though if you feel you have given the person at each level a reasonable chance to settle the issue.


BE INFORMATIVE - Share what you know about your child that will help the teachers understand your child's need. What motivates your child? What are his favorite things? What has and has not worked in the past? What works at home? What does she like to do?


OFFER SOLUTIONS WHEN YOU DISCUSS THE PROBLEM - Be creative. There is usually more than one single solution. Look for a solution that benefits everybody. You may know of community resources the teacher is not aware of. You may know of some low cost options that might work well for your child. Since teachers cannot be experts on all disabilities and you have probably researched your child's disability, share the ideas you have come across from reading and from other parents.

BE PRINCIPLED and PERSISTENT. Don't sell out. Remember your vision for your child. Be clear about what your child needs and stand firm in your position. Keep at it, but don't let the battle become the issue. Avoid being adversarial. There is a difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Attack the problem, not the person. Assume that the issue will be resolved to your satisfaction. Assume honorable intentions on the part of the school.

LEARN TO COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY. Many issues are the result of poor communication between parents and school. Listen to what other people are saying. If you are talking, you are not listening. They may have valuable insights to share. They may even be agreeing with you. Ask questions. If you don't understand something ask for clarification until you do understand it. Say what you really mean. Be sincere and honest. Be brief and to the point by planning ahead what you will say. Project authority, don't sound timid. Look the other person in the eye. Tell the person how you feel. They have feelings too. Watch what your body language is saying. Try to smile and relax (takes practice:-() You do not want to make the other person defensive. Follow up conversations and meetings with a written summary of the discussions or agreement, giving everyone a chance to correct any misunderstandings.

LET PEOPLE KNOW WHEN YOU ARE PLEASED- We often take things for granted until there is a problem. Be sure and express your satisfaction and excitement about progress your child is making. Everyone enjoys being appreciated and complemented for a job well done. Try to end conversations and meetings on a positive note. It will make the next encounter that much easier.

DEVELOP ENDURANCE - Pace yourself for a long race. As a parent of a child with a disability, there will be many encounters and many challenges and issues, some successes and some failures. Important lessons are learned from both. You will probably be working with your school district for many years to come to ensure a free and appropriate public education for your child. Developing effective advocacy skills will help you to make this relationship a positive one.

FOLLOW THROUGH - Monitor progress. Make sure your child's IEP is being implemented. Are the related services the team agreed to being provided? Are the agencies involved in transition following through with their responsibilities? Are the goals and objectives still appropriate, or are they already met, or do they now appear unrealistic?


CULTIVATE YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR - Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.

Mariah Spanglet

Uploaded by: BJ Lawrence/Kent State University/Deafed Major