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When parents have a child with special needs, they are struggling to understand their child, the diagnosis and what special education programs and treatments are appropriate for their child. A general rule of thumb is the more severe the diagnosis, the earlier the assessment and diagnosis comes. So, when the parents find out their child has a disability(s), they are forced into a new reality and educational endeavor to learn about the disability, special education laws and the best possible services for their child with in the educational system.
If the parents have had a previous child in special education, this is a much easier task. For a brand new parent, it can be a very painful and uphill battle. So, how do you determine if you should self-advocate for your child’s needs or hire an advocate or an attorney to represent you through the special education process? I hope to clarify this decision for you. I would like to make the statement that school districts are not out to deny services or try to make things difficult. It usually is a matter of not understanding your child’s needs, the disability, and severity.
First of all, I would like to say that parenting a child or children is a hard and almost never ending job on trying to raise them to the best of your abilities. When a child has some type of special needs, it multiplies this job of parenting, depending on the severity of the problem. When you have been told that your child has a disability, you try to find out as much information as possible so you may have a better understanding of the disability and your child. But that is only part of the new territory about which the parent will need to learn. When the child starts school, a whole new endeavor opens up to learn about and to try to get the best services available for you specific child’s needs. Some parents are knowledgeable about the disability, the special education system, have the capacity to add that to their plate, and feel confident enough to self-advocate for their child. If you are unhappy with the services being offered or feel you cannot understand the circumstances of the services to best serve your child, then it might be time to consider to seek professional advice. Be sure to select someone with experience and knowledge of the laws and disabilities.
An advocate’s job is to learn about your child, what is happening in the assessment and/or the IEP process, and represent your concerns in the IEP meeting. You can use them as a consultant or a representative at the IEP meetings. Be sure to have all your past assessments, doctor’s reports, and IEP’s readily available for review. Also, write down your concerns about your child, the services that your child is receiving, and what you feel is needed and not being provided. Hiring an advocate can be for 1 IEP or numerous ones if needed. The advocate should make sure that services by the school district are state and federally compliant according to the current laws of IDEA and are in the least restrictive environment.
If the school district has blown it big time and has done something drastically wrong, and you know that you are in for a long legal battle, it is the time to consider an attorney. Attorney’s are trained in the legalities of the law and are more appropriate if the case is going to court or fair hearing. They are more knowledgeable and experienced to handle the major legal challenges that the parents might need to pursue. It will be more expensive but sometimes they are the best person for the job.
Awareness and knowledge of your options is your best first step.

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