Expose Yourself to Advocacy Opportunities
The best way to become a good advocate is by exposure. If you wanted to catch the flu, you would hang out with folks who had the flu. If you want to become a good advocate, hang around with folks who do advocacy work.
Learn about Special Education, Law and Advocacy
Read everything you can find about special education, disabilities, and how children learn.
Read IDEA 2004, the federal special education regulations, and the Commentary to the regulations that was published in the Federal Register.
Remember that law is always changing. What you read today may change tomorrow because of decisions in due process hearings, appeals, and by courts. State complaints may clarify portions of the special education law. You need to spend time if you are to stay current on the the changes in law.
Join Organizations & Attend Conferences
Join at least three organizations or information groups. Many organizations have great state and national conferences. There are often special sessions for advocates at these conferences.
Most organizations publish state and national newsletters for their members. Newsletter editors are always looking for fresh content. After you've read a few issues, offer to write an article for a newsletter.
Attend Training Programs
Attend a Wrightslaw special education law and advocacy training program or seminar. Wrightslaw programs are expanding. Online training programs will be available soon.
Partners in Policymaking provides leadership training, advocacy skills workshops, and resource development. Participants learn how to network and share resources. Partners programs are available in most states and several countries. If you have questions about your state's program, contact your State Coordinator.
Each state has at least one Parent Training Information Center (PTI). The staff at these centers serve families of children with disabilities in a variety of ways. Many PTIs provide advocacy training. Check the Directory of Parent Training Information Centers on the Yellow Pages for Kids site to see what training opportunities are available near you.
The Federation for Children with Special Needs offers Parent Consultant Training Institutes for parents and professionals in Massachusetts. Read Becoming an Advocate
If you have not done so, you need to subscribe to The Special Ed Advocate newsletter. The Special Ed Advocate is unique, interesting and free!
Join the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA)
The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) is the national organization of attorneys, education advocates and parents. COPAA focuses on special education rights and excellence in advocacy. Mission
As a member, you have access to moderated discussion groups (listservs), databanks of legal documents, and materials by leading special education attorneys and advocates.
COPAA sponsors an annual conference to provide training and education for parents, advocates, and attorneys.
Benefits l Membership application l Scholarships
Link up with Other Advocates
The first step in the Game Plan was "Expose Yourself to Advocacy Opportunities." You need to link up with other advocates in your state or city. You'll find advocates listed on the Yellow Pages for Kids website for your state.
Some states and metropolitan areas have groups of advocates. Some states and metropolitan areas have groups of advocates. If you live in Texas, you'll want to check out the Texas Organization of Parents, Attorneys and Advocates (TOPAA).
Volunteer to Help
Try to hook up with a special education parent attorney. Offer to help the attorney (for free) prepare cases for due process hearings and IEP meetings. If you do this, you will learn so much about how to be a good advocate. You will also learn about things you can do that will jeopardize a good special education case.
You will begin to view your advocacy cases from a different perspective. You will understand why you always need to prepare every case as though it will end up in a due process hearing.
Practice Your Advocacy Skills
In addition to learning information, you need opportunities to practice advocacy skills. Offer to go to IEP Team meetings with parents. Offer to be a friendly face at the table. Assure the parents that you will not say anything unless they ask for your input.
Explain that you are trying to learn - and the best way to learn advocacy skills is by going to IEP Team meetings. When you go to IEP meetings for other children, you do not have the same emotional reaction as when you attend an IEP meeting for your child. You are more objective.
You will see the games people play. You will see that parents wear "buttons" and that some school personnel know how to push these buttons. In time, you will be able to prepare parents so they do not become overtly emotional or angry when someone tries to push their buttons.
You will also learn about the players, their roles, and their personalities. You will recognize their tactics and strategies more easily because you are not emotionally involved.
So you want to be an advocate? What are the three things you need to do?
Printer-friendly copy of So You Want to Be an Advocate by Pat Howey.
About the Author
Pat Howey an advocate who helps parents obtain special education services and resolve special education disputes. She also provides advocacy training programs. Pat answers your questions in Ask the Advocate.