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So You Want to Be A Special Education Advocate?
by Pat Howey

So you want to be a special education advocate? What do you need to learn? What skills do you need to acquire?
Institute of Special Education Advocacy (ISEA)
Here are three essential things you need to do:

  • Expose yourself to advocacy opportunities
  • Learn about special education, law and advocacy
  • Practice, practice, practice advocacy skills

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.

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. MissionCouncil of Parent Attorneys & Advocates

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.

Membership application and Scholarship Information

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.

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. Pat Howey teaching a session at the 2011 Institute of Special Education Advocacy at William & Mary Law

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?

Meet Pat Howey

Pat HoweyPatricia Howey has supported families of children with disabilities since 1985. She has a specific learning disability and became involved in special education when her youngest child entered kindergarten. Pat has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who have a variety of disabilities and she has used her experience to advocate for better special education services for several of them.

Pat is a charter member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), serving on its Board of Directors from 2000 through 2003. She has been a Commissioner on the Tippecanoe (County) Human Relations Committee, a graduate of Leadership Lafayette and Partners in Policymaking, and a member of the Wrightslaw Speakers Bureau. She has been on the faculty of the College of William and Mary Law School’s Institute of Special Education Advocacy since its inception in 2011.

Pat has an A.S. and a B.A. in Paralegal Studies from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, where she graduated magna cum laude. She is an Indiana Registered Paralegal and an affiliate member of the Indiana Bar and the American Bar Associations.

Pat began her advocacy career as a volunteer for the Task Force on Education for the Handicapped (now InSource), Indiana’s Parent Training and Information Center. In 1990, she opened her advocacy practice and served families throughout Indiana by representing them at IEP meetings, mediation, and due process hearings.

In 2017, Pat closed her advocacy practice and began working on a contract basis as a special education paralegal. Attorneys in Indiana, Texas, and California contracted with her to review documents, spot issues, draft due process complaints, prepare for hearings, and assist at hearings. In January 2019, she became an employee of the Connell Michael Kerr law firm, owned by Erin Connell, Catherine Michael, and Sonja Kerr. Her duties have now expanded to assisting with federal court cases.

"Changing the World -- One Child at at Time.

Contact Information

Patricia L. Howey, B.A., IRP
POB 117
West Point, Indiana 47992-0117
E-mail: specialedconsulting@gmail.com
Webpage: https://cmklawfirm.com/

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Revised: 07/15/19

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