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advocacy skills for parents

As a parent of a child with a disability, you are your child’s first and lifelong Advocate.  You know and understand your child better than anybody else and your experiences are valuable and can be used to obtain and/or improve services for your child. In addition, regarding school issues, you know when something is or isn’t working. Parents may also have ideas how to make things better. It is important for you to acquire and develop the information and skills necessary to become an effective advocate for your child. Unfortunately, there are not enough advocates in New York City that will be able to help you. The following are suggestions that will allow you to advocate effectively for your child.

Six Skills to be an effective advocate:

  1. Understand your child’s disability
  2. Know the key players
  3. Know your rights and responsibilities
  4. Become well organized
  5. Use clear and effective communication
  6. Know how to resolve disagreements

  • Understanding your child’s disability means how the disability affects how your child learns in the classroom. It will also help you know which services and accommodations are necessary and appropriate for your child.
  • Know who the individuals who are involved in your child’s education. Understand their roles and responsibilities and how best to communicate your questions and concerns.
  • Know your fights and responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education act (IDEA.) Use the Internet to learn about your rights resources. Visit your Parent Training and Information Center. Talk to parents who understand their rights and are familiar with the special education process.
  • A well organized advocate will:
    • Keep records- A file for education papers, another for medical, etc. papers
    • Put it in writing - Document, document, document!
    • Have a meeting notebook – calendar
  • An effective advocate will use clear and effective communication:
    • Keep your eyes on the “prize” – the right services for your child!
    • Listen and ask questions
    • Focus on needs of the child
    • Work with and problem solve with the school to find solutions
    • Speak clearly
    • Avoid making people feel defensive
    • Show respect and expect it from others
    • Be passionate, not demanding; manage your emotions
    • Thank people for their time and effort
  • Know how to resolve disagreements. Engage school personnel in informal discussions in order to try to resolve disputes. If this is unsuccessful, you have the right to request mediation, an informal and confidential way for people to resolve disputes with the help of a neutral mediator who is trained to help people discuss their differences. The mediator helps the parties work out their own solutions to problems. Mediation is a non-adversarial approach to conflict resolution. Another option is to file for, in writing, an impartial hearing. The Impartial Hearing is a formal, often adversarial process to resolve a serious dispute between the school district and the parent/family. Upon filing for an impartial hearing, both parties are encouraged to try to resolve their differences in what is known as a resolution session.

Advocacy Skills Resources
Parent Advocacy: What You Should Do . . . and Not Do is an article that helps prepare parents for an IEP meeting so that an impartial hearing is avoided.

Advocates need to ask these important questions regarding their children: What are your long-term goals for your child? What do you envision for your child in the future? In order to be able to answer these questions, the parent must be able to become an effective advocate for their child. Ten Tips for Good Advocates offers suggestions that will help parents to advocate effectively.

Additional Tips to help parents obtain appropriate services can be found in 18 Tips for Getting Quality Special Education for your Child which can be found at:

Parent Teacher Conferences
The Parent–Teacher Conference Tip Sheet, published by the Harvard Family Research Project, provides key strategies for both parents and teachers to walk into conferences informed and prepared, in order to ensure the most successful outcomes.
For a copy in Spanish see:

Letter Writing
You write letters to request information, request action, provide information or describe an event, decline a request, and express appreciation. In the Art of Letter Writing you will learn about two approaches to letter writing, the Blame Approach and the Story-Telling Approach.

Evaluating IEP Goals
An important component of an IEP is its goals. The document SMART IEPs helps parents evaluate the appropriateness of their child’s goals and contribute to the development of SMART goals; that is goals that are specific, measurable, filled with action words, realistic and relevant, and time-limited.