The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) makes public education available to children with disabilities ages 3 to 21. The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) reports that 7.3 million students received special education or related services under IDEA in 2021 and 2022 alone, comprising 15 percent of all public school students.
Special education includes services that address a child’s unique needs. Children who are eligible receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP). While special needs classrooms are available, federal law states that students must have access to the least restrictive environment. The least restrictive environment requirement permits many children with IEPs to participate in standard classrooms while getting additional support.
Navigating the school’s special education regulations and procedures to ensure children receive necessary services can be demanding, as parents often lack knowledge of applicable laws and the school system. In a study by the Rapid Project, parents of children with disabilities reported facing more challenges with children’s school plans and obtaining support services than parents of children who do not have special needs. Families with disabilities also experienced greater emotional distress.
By providing knowledge and guidance, special education advocates can support a student’s best interests and help lessen family stress.
Special education advocates work directly with students and their families to help them fully utilize available services. They may have degrees and training in education or law or bring years of personal experience from helping their own child with special needs, but no formal licensing requirement exists. Some lawyers also provide special education advocacy.
These advocates can empower students and their families in several ways:
In addition to helping your child access resources, a special education advocate, or IEP advocate, can help identify overlooked factors that could be affecting your child’s education, such as undiagnosed learning challenges.
You may want to explore hiring a special education advocate if you feel overwhelmed by the special education system, believe your child’s needs are not being met, or need help addressing an educational challenge.
When you choose to work with a special education advocate, your family can benefit from their knowledge and assistance. Since the role requires no formal licensing or certification, individuals offering special education advocacy services may vary in their background, education, and experience. Some organizations, such as the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, provide training for parents and special education advocates.
When selecting a special education advocate, ask about their qualifications and work experience, and consider interviewing multiple candidates to find the best fit for your child.
In addition to the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, the following organizations can provide recommendations for special education advocates:
Call Ashley Day to discuss special needs services. She can help your child access educational opportunities. In addition, Ashley can work to protect your child’s classroom rights and can take legal action if the school fails to provide services and accommodations.