As a parent of a child with special needs, you know that navigating the education maze can be daunting. You want your child to receive all of the opportunities that education can afford, but due to learning differences, they need strategic accommodations from the education system, as required by law. Helping your child get what he/she needs can require a significant investment in the form of time spent working with school representatives, studying rights and assuring that your child is receiving what they need. You may be considering working with a special education advocate. Before you do, you should know the pros and cons of working with an advocate.
Pros of working with a Special Education Advocate
They know the laws/rights involved
Advocates specialize in the laws surrounding special needs education. They know the laws and they understand your rights as a parent. This is beneficial when negotiating with the school, as you will have someone on your side who knows if your child is being treated appropriately under the law.
They know when it’s time to take it to the next level
Because of the advocate’s expertise, they can advise you when the school is not cooperating as required by law. And they can advise you that it is time to take legal action.
They provide moral support
Knowing that you are working with someone who has helped many people navigate an often complex system provides reassurance that you can be successful in obtaining what your child needs.
They are less expensive than legal representation
Advocates are not lawyers, so they will cost less if you need help navigating the system. But there are some reasons for that.
Cons of working with a Special Education Advocate
They can make schools defensive
Hiring an advocate can be viewed as a statement that the school is not doing what it should for your child. Or you do not expect them to. It is important to be aware of the dynamic that an advocate can bring to the room so that you are prepared.
They may not be formally trained
Many advocates are parents who have navigated the system before. They want to help others. While they may be very informed, they are most often self-educated. And that may put you at a disadvantage.
They may be bringing their own “baggage” to the table
Because advocates have been through this before on a very personal level, they could be bringing their own experiences into the mix rather than focusing on your child’s unique needs. This phenomenon is certainly unintentional, but can affect negotiations.
They may not be enough
If your advocate is unable to resolve the issues that you are facing, then you will need to hire real legal representation anyway.
Making the right decision for your child
Deciding whether to work independently, hire an advocate or work with a lawyer who specializes in special education law is not an easy decision. It is important that you consider your child’s unique needs and your past experiences with the school to determine the level of assistance you need. You have rights as a parent. Working with someone who understands these rights and knows how to support and represent the needs of your child will help your child get the education that he/she deserves.