Special Education Advocacy and the Quality of Life

beach-22 textThere comes a moment when you realize that what you’re advocating for is more than just accommodations. You’re really advocating for someone’s quality of life. That’s the moment you realize you won’t give up.

We recently read this quote on Facebook from the Dyslexia Training Institute and immediately recognized how true it is. We experienced such a moment when our son was in elementary school and was struggling to read and demonstrate other essential academic skills at grade level. We knew that advocating for an appropriate education for him, which began in preschool, would have to go beyond just the few services and accommodations listed in his IEP. Even though his adult years were far into the future, we intuitively knew that our efforts to improve his education then were actually building a foundation for his future.

The basic concept of the federal special education law, IDEA, is that an appropriate education is the key to a productive life. Mastering academic skills opens many doors for learning and fulfilling dreams, which in turn makes for a productive citizen. This simple concept is a true and worthy ideal for a society that places value on each and every one of its members.

Sadly, there is an imperfect relationship between our society’s ideals and our society’s practices. In special education, the ideal, expressed in the concept of the Individualized Education Program, is that every child should receive an individualized education appropriate to that child’s abilities. The reality is that all too often schools offer these students only a “one size fits all” program that ends up fitting none of them.

We witnessed this reality over and over during our fifteen years in the special education system. We know of many young people who were on IEPs in public schools and received diplomas, only to be unprepared for life after high school graduation. Those who have made significant progress since graduation had parents who were strong advocates throughout their primary and secondary education.

We all want our children to feel satisfied with school, excited about learning, and happy to apply what they have learned. The goal is for them to become independent and productive adults. An education that prepares a student for life after high school, whether it is attending college or technical school, or living and working independently, contributes to that quality of life.

The bottom line is that your child’s future depends on your advocacy now, especially if your child is in special education. You may feel it is the school’s job to handle your child’s education and you shouldn’t have to be involved. We know from our experience that you must be fully involved.

We knew that despite the extra work of being our son’s advocates, we had to maximize our efforts. We found independent professionals who guided us with testing, accurate information, and critical support. When it became clear that the public school was not providing an appropriate education, we placed our son in a more appropriate school and sought reimbursement to hold our school district accountable for providing the free appropriate education they were required to give him by federal and state law.

All of this was up to us. It was not easy, but we never stopped trying. The result was that our son went from being a struggling student in elementary school to becoming a college graduate. This has had a major impact on his opportunities for the future.

Bear this in mind as you progress through the school year. In every Team meeting, every evaluation, and every teacher conference, you’re really advocating for your child’s future. Don’t ever give up!

Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves

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2 thoughts on “Special Education Advocacy and the Quality of Life

  1. April Cook

    I really like how you say that a child’s future depends on advocacy now. If we don’t give all the help we can as soon as we know it is needed then it can hinder their progress. I also like how you said that you hired a professional to help you through the process. I think that would really help us to understand what help is available. Are you allowed to have a hired advocate with you in IEP meetings? Thanks for this information!

    1. Carson Graves

      The short answer is yes! In the chapter of our book on Team Meetings, we write: “…parents may invite anyone who knows their child and can be supportive, such as a relative, a friend, an advocate, or outside professional, to their Team meetings. As a courtesy, parents should notify the school in advance of any additional people they plan to bring, though this is not required by law. The school, on the other hand, is required to provide parents with an advance written notice of who will be attending on behalf of the school.”

      The authorizing statute is 20 USC 1414(d)(1)(B)(vi), which allows people “who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child” to attend a Team meeting “at the discretion of the parent.”

      Thanks for your comment.

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