Carol Foulke M.S. is a retired speech/language pathologist with more than 30 years experience in a public school setting who served elementary through high school students. I asked her the following questions:

  • From your perspective, what makes a parent an effective advocate for her child?
  • What is most often overlooked?
  • What gets in the way of parents’ effectiveness?

Here are Carol’s responses:

“One of the most important things that parents can do is to know the state laws regarding special education. That way they know what is within their rights, what is reasonable to ask for, and what to expect.

If parents can let school staff know that they are educated on SpEd law without threatening or bullying, it can set the tone for working within the legal framework. A huge factor is the parents AND school staff working together as a team for the benefit of the child, and not as adversaries. Be in communication with your teacher of record.

Let them know about significant events (both positive and negative) at home, e.g., if there are changes in medication/dosage so that staff can help assess behavior changes.
Let the school know if there is a family member in health crisis, if parents are separating/divorcing, etc. Although these are ‘family matters’, they can have a major impact on the student’s performance at school. No need to get into too much detail, but let someone know that there is disruption at home.

I think a big issue that can get in the way of parents’ effectiveness is that they focus solely on what they want for their child; it is sometimes very difficult to be unbiased when dealing with our little ones! But remember that the school must take into account the welfare and educational rights of ALL of its students. Behaviors, poor work habits, etc., may be present at home, but not at school, or vice versa.

It can be a fine line to walk for parents—demanding that their child’s educational needs are met while understanding that difficulties and differences may not equal disability under state and federal guidelines.

Bottom line: Work TOGETHER and respect the training and experience the school personnel have. Communicate with staff and play nice!”

Judy M. Miller is a freelance writer living with her husband and four children. She is a Gottman Educator and the author of What To Expect From Your Adopted Tween, a guide for adoptive parents.