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Seven Steps to Effective Parent Advocacy
by Pamela Darr Wright, MA, MSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

School is stressful for kids with disabilities. Parents feel the stress too. Read our new article, “Seven Steps to Effective Parent Advocacy.” When you take these steps – which include planning and preparation – you’ll increase your power with your child’s IEP team and your school district. You'll also increase the odds that next year, things will be better

Step 1. Join Disabilities Organizations

In our workshops and seminars about "How Advocate for Your Child," we tell parents they need to join three disabilities organizations for one year. Why do we make this recommendation? 

The national disabilities groups - the International Dyslexia Association, Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (Ch.A.D.D.), National Attention Deficit Disorder Association, the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDAA), the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, the National Tourette Syndrome Association, the Autism Society, and others publish newsletters for their members.

These newsletters are an excellent source of information about advocacy, educational, medical, and legal issues. When parents join these groups - and read these newsletters - they learn new ways to help their child.

For the websites of national disabilities organizations and information groups, go to

Step 2. Organize Your Child’s File 

Do you have a complete copy of your child's entire file? Are all documents filed in reverse chronological order? Because special education generates so much paper, many parents throw documents away, or toss them away in boxes. If you don’t have a system to manage paper, you won’t be able to find important information when you need it!

To organize your child’s file, you need to get copies of all evaluations, IEPs, correspondence, medical reports, and other information about your child from all sources.

You’ll find specific instructions about how to organize your child’s file in Chapter 9 of the Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition.

TIP: You are entitled to a complete copy of your child's file from the school. The school may charge a "reasonable" photocopying fee.

Step 3. Learn to Measure Educational Progress

Is your child is benefiting from special education? Is your child progressing? What objective evidence do you have that supports your position? To learn how to measure educational progress, download and read Understanding Tests and Measurements.

Step 4. Chart Your Child's Test Scores

When you measure your child’s educational progress, it’s helpful to chart the test scores. It’s easy to do this with a spreadsheet program like MS Excel. When you plug in your child's test scores, you can make charts of your child's progress or lack of progress.

TIP: Use the Wizard in your software program to help you create graphs of educational progress.

Wrightslaw multimedia training program Understanding Your Child's Test Scores. In this 1.5 hour program, Pete Wright teaches you about the bell curve, mean, and standard deviations. You'll learn how to draw the bell curve and how to use your child's test scores to create powerful progress graphs. Pete will also teach you about standard scores, percentile ranks, subtest scores, composite or cluster scores, and subtest scatter.

Step 5. Learn About Your Rights and Responsibilities

Parents need to read the special education statute and regulations. Read and re-read the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). You can download portions of the statute, along with Pete's comments, at Wrightslaw: IDEA 2004.

TIP: Use a highlighter when you read the law. Expect to read and re-read the law several times. Attach sticky notes on those pages that relate to your child’s situation.

There are dozens of good legal research sites on the Internet.

FindLaw is an encyclopedic law site with resources for legal professionals, students, businesses, and the public.

The Legal Information Institute (LII) from the Cornell Law School includes decisions by topic, journal articles, other resources.

Wrightslaw is a special education law and advocacy site.

Get a copy of Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Education which includes:

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
  • Implementing regulations; and
  • Casebook of special education decisions by the U. S. Supreme Court

Step 6. Learn About Assistive Technology (and How to Touch-Type)

If your child has a disability, the child will need to learn to touch type. Handwriting is incredibly difficult for many children with disabilities. One neurologist said, "Writing is the most complicated neurological process that a human being must perform."

Children learn from their parents and model their parent’s actions. If you "hunt and peck," do you think your child will want to learn to touch type? No way! If you “hunt and peck,” get a typing software program like "Mavis Beacon Teaching Typing." If you use Mavis Beacon for 5 - 10 minutes, two or three times a day, you’ll be touch typing at a rate of 30-40 words a minute in three months or less.

Tip: Mavis Beacon is available through the Advocate's Bookstore at Wrightslaw.

When YOU learn to touch type, you can require your children to learn too. After a week or two, your children will begin to compete with you - and try to increase their speed over yours. Your children will thank you for being such a great role model - in about 10 years!

Step 7. Become an Educated Consumer

During the summer, visit web sites that provide good quality educational and legal information. We suggest that you begin with the LD Online site at

Check out the EdLaw site at-

Explore your state's Department of Education website. You may be surprised at the interesting information you can pick up.

Psychologist Margaret Kay’s site is a good source of information about language learning disabilities:


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Revised: 10/30/17

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