Evidence shows that the keys to working successfully with children prenatally exposed to alcohol are STRUCTURE, CONSISTENCY, BREVITY, VARIETY, and PERSISTENCE.
This section contains links to resources for parents and others to explore educational options appropriate for individuals affected by FASD.
Advocating for the Student with FASD Contains numerous helpful links worth following up on.
Wrightslaw.com Information about special education law, education law, and advocacy for children with disabilities
California Department of Education Administration & Support Includes information about state education funding and California Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs), which manage IEPs.
Effective advocacy starts with educating yourself
Make sure you understand your child’s disability and learning style. Become knowledgeable about your child’s school program, and learn about your rights and responsibilities under the law. As a key member of your child’s team, your goal is to work collaboratively with teachers and other professionals to ensure that your FASD-affected child gets the best education possible.
What is a special education advocate?
An educational advocate is someone who helps parents or families to understand the special education process.Successful advocates get good results for students by working cooperatively and openly with parents and schools. Advocates can provide information about special education options and requirements, and can help you to seek a specific service or program for your child. An advocate can help you carefully read and interpret your child’s school records, testing information, and Individualized Education Program (IEP). An advocate may attend IEP meetings with you. A skillful advocate who knows local schools and resources can often see solutions not immediately obvious to other people.
It is important to know that there is no formal certification or licensing process for educational advocates. Some are attorneys, but most advocates are not trained as lawyers. A well-trained educational advocate who is not an attorney will help you know when you need advice from a lawyer.
Most importantly, an educational advocate can help you to become a better advocate for your own child.
A Good Advocate:
- Is well-trained and knows the applicable laws
- Understands schools and school personnel
- Takes time to know your child, is familiar with his disability or disabilities and how they affect learning and accessing an appropriate education
- Empowers you
- Acts professionally
Parents Helping Parents has a Resource Directory where you can search for advocates and attorneys in California. On the right hand side of the Directory page, there is a place to select filters for what you are looking for; use the Services drop-down list in this area, and then select the Advocates and Attorneys option.
For a list of free/reduced cost attorneys and advocates from the California Department of Education Office of Administrative Hearings, download this spreadsheet.
The Women’s Organization for Special Education Professionals helps individuals find information and professionals for special education services in Southern California. Use its Special Education Services directory for a listing of advocates and attorneys.
Frequently, other parents who participate in the Southern California FASD Information & Support Network have retained educational advocates on behalf of their child affected by FASD. Special education advocates in Southern California also participate in the network. You can ask questions of these advocates, as well as request that parents send you suggestions and recommendations of advocates in your community or county by becoming part of the network’s email discussion group, attending network meetings, and/or joining our secure Facebook group. You can also send a message to one of the network points of contact in your county.
Finding the right educational advocate for your family means asking the right questions. Try to interview at least three advocates before hiring one. Here are key topics to discuss with each prospective advocate:
- Ask what kind of training the advocate has received. When? From what organization(s)?
- How much experience does he/she have? Consider asking the advocate specific questions about special education laws and regulations. Does the advocate give clear explanations?
- Discuss what the advocate knows about teaching methods that work for children with the kinds of challenges your child is facing in school.
- Ask the advocate to explain how to measure your child’s progress in school, and to show how this information can be helpful in developing the IEP.
- Find out how the advocate would plan to obtain positive results for your child, while maintaining a productive working relationship with your child’s school or school district.
- Find out how the advocate will help to educate and empower you to become a better advocate for your child, especially with working and communicating effectively on your child’s behalf with your child’s teacher(s) and support staff outside of planning or IEP meetings.
- Find out when the advocate is available, and how much time he or she will be able to spend with you outside of IEP meetings.
- Find out what the advocate knows about FASD, as well as any other conditions which contribute to your child’s learning challenges. This is especially important since FASD is not a unique category which qualifies any child for special education services in the way that blindness, deafness, or intellectual impairment (low IQ) do.
- Ask if the advocate has experience with other children who have FASD and/or other conditions affecting your child.
- Ask the advocate to explain how he or she was able to work out a solution with and for other families in the past, especially for children whose learning issues are similar to your child’s.
- Unless the advocate was recommended to you by at least two or three other parents, always request references from the advocate’s current or previous clients.
- If the advocate charges a fee (most do), make sure you know what the advocate’s fee and/or the retainer amount will be before you select him or her. (Always agree to these specifics up front, and always do so in writing.)
Make sure the advocate understands the facts of your child’s situation. This includes factors such as whether another adult (or government agency) has a legal say in your child’s education planning. If you would like the advocate to see your child’s school records, the school will require you to sign a release form. Also, you will need to decide when (or if) the advocate can speak to the school without your permission.
When you feel comfortable with a potential advocate, arrange for the advocate to meet and spend time with your child. Your child’s education must be individualized to meet his unique needs; and the advocate should get to know your child as an individual. If your child is in elementary or middle school, you may be working with the advocate for a long time, perhaps many years. Make sure he or she is someone that your child and you feel you can trust and work with for the long term, as appropriate. Beware if the prospective advocate is not willing and able to meet with and work with your child as part of the process of choosing the best one for your family.
Also avoid working with an advocate who is not willing to draw up a written agreement of what the he or she will do for you. Make sure that the agreement contains a provision that he or she must return all materials pertaining your your child when you are finished working together.
California Senate Bill 462. Designed to provide a voluntary special education advocate certification program. Has not yet become law.