|Posted by Robin Maines on October 27, 2012 at 12:00 AM|
As a Special Education advocate, being asked to help parents navigate and understand the Special Education system, I had to remain 'detached' and approach each new situation in a professional way. In an effort to help parents address their concerns and work out any problems they may have experienced with their child's school district administrators, I had to be neutral, as I collected information so I could assess the difficulties that had occurred. I would speak, at length, with the parents and sometimes their child, about what they perceived as the problems they wanted to resolve, I would look over all their documentation and I would speak with school district administrators to try to understand their position.
I would explain to both parties what I understood to be the concerns of everyone involved. I would research the law to see how it applied to each particular situation, discuss with the parents what I thought their options might be, ask them to prioritize their concerns and we would determine what issues we wanted to tackle and how we would do so before we sat down with school officials to discuss what could be done to address the issues at hand.
I was able to take that approach, as a professional, someone with no emotional investment in the particular situation being addressed, but I also understood, as the parent of a child with special needs who was struggling educationally and emotionally at school, that as a parent it is very difficult, nearly impossible, to take a 'detached' position. It is easy to become angry that school personnel seem to be so cold and detached, seem to 'not care' about my child.
Having the benefit of being both a parent of a child with special needs, at odds with my school district AND having the opportunity to be a professional advocate, I've gained a better understanding of the 'parent advocate's' role and responsibilities and how they contribute to the dynamic that exists between parent and school district.
To be a successful 'parent advocate', a parent has to try to balance their emotions and their responsibility as a parent to their child with their role as a member of their child's educational team. We have to find a way to keep our emotions 'in-check' and approach interactions with school district personnel as though we are equal members of a 'team' that is working for the best interest of our child. We have to take a reasonable and realistic approach to supporting, and advocating for, our child.
I believe (and experienced personally) that when parents educate themselves about their rights, education laws and their child's educational needs in relation to their particular disability, they feel more empowered, they are able to more effectively advocate for their children and participate as equal partners with school district administrators... when they are able to do so it minimizes feelings of desperation, feeling intimidated or inadequate and as a result they are less prone to becoming emotional when confronted with a conflict.
Parents truly do have to master a 'balancing act' when negotiating with their school district to secure the most beneficial education plan for their child.