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Five steps to becoming your child's best advocate.

What is an advocate? An advocate is not an adversary. According to Webster's Dictionary, an advocate is "someone who speaks for another person or cause." We hope you will use this article as a guide for "speaking" on behalf of your child.

1. Start with the assumption that you are an equal partner in your child's education.

Parents of children with special needs should be involved as equal partners in their child's educational planning. Unfortunately, many parents say, "How can I be an equal partner? I am just a mother or father. I don't know anything about school. I don't know enough to work with all those professionals!" And a parent who feels this way will not "speak up" and be the best advocate for their child.

But what is a partner? It is hard to feel a part of something you cannot understand or define. The dictionary says that a partner is a member of a "relationship between people in which each person has equal status." This definition doesn't say "has equal knowledge in all areas"; it doesn't say "has an equal amount of education." It says "each has equal status." You might not have a background in education but you do know your child. You are the expert and should be an important part of the school's efforts to provide your child with an educational program to meet his or her individual needs.

2. Deal with your perceptions or feelings about yourself as a parent of a child with special needs.

Understand the grief process and don't let feelings of anger or denial get in the way of your ability to negotiate.

3. Acquire knowledge.

You don't have to memorize everything about your child's disability, laws, etc. You just need to be aware and know enough to ask questions. You also need to know the resources available that can answer your questions. You should:

* know about special education laws including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act;

* know that special education programs must follow state regulations and that not all issues are controlled by the local school system;

* know how your school system operates, how decisions are made, the people, etc.; and

* know the sources of information and support in your state including your parent training and information center.

4. Improve your skills.

You also need skills to become a better advocate for your child. To become more effective you may need to write letters and document issues. You, too, can learn these skills in time.

5. Participate.

Finally, the most important thing that you can do for your child is to participate. Attend teacher conferences, parent group meetings, school functions. And always go to IEP meetings, give your ideas and suggestions, and negotiate a program that is truly individualized for your child.

Remember you are and always will be your child's best advocate.

THE NATIONAL PARENT NETWORK ON DISABILITIES BOARD OF DIRECTORS

* Carol Blades, Special Education Action Committee (SEAC), Mobile, Ala.

* Richard Burden, IN*SOURCE, South Bend, Ind., Secretary, NPND.

* Joanne Butts, Washington PAVE, Tacoma, Wash.

* Amparo Crespo DeCastro, Asociacion de Padres Por Bienestar de Ninos, Impedidos de P.R., Inc. (APNI) Rio Piedras, P.R.

* Connie Curtain, Vt. Information and Training Network (VITN), Winooski, Vt.

* Diana Cuthbertson, Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN), Westfield, N.J., 1st Vice President, NPND.

* Christine Davis, Parent Union for Public Schools, Philadelphia, Pa., Treasurer, NPND.

* Paula Goldberg, PACER Center, Minneapolis, Minn.

* Connie Hawkins, Exceptional Children's Assistance Center (ECAC), Davidson, N.C., President, NPND.

* Carla Lawson, Iowa Pilot Parents, Fort Dodge, Iowa.

* Cheron Mayhall, Coalition in Oregon for Parent Education Project, Inc. (COPE), Salem, Ore.

* Florene Poyadue, Parents Helping Parents, San Jose, Calif.

* Sue Pratt, CAUSE, Lansing, Mich.

* Judith Raskin, Parent Information Center (PIC), Concord, N.H.

* Pam Steneberg, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), Berkeley, Calif.

* Patricia Smith, Executive Director, NPND
COPYRIGHT 1992 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Networking: Information from the National Parent Network on Disabilities
Author:Hawkins, Connie
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Words:640
Previous Article:I'm not done yet!
Next Article:Appearances count.
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