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What Parents Need to Know
Both Federal and state laws mandate special education in the United States. Nonetheless, parents of children with exceptional needs often face an uphill battle when it comes to obtaining the education their children need and deserve.
Special education advocacy can be found through agencies designed to speak or write for the children and their parents. Advocates cannot provide legal counsel, however, the can help parents to find an attorney if one is needed.
Many states have special education advocacy organizations. For example, in Massachusetts, there is SPaN, Inc. (Special Needs Advocacy, Network), which offers parents information and resources. In addition, most states' education departments have resources and information that parents can access.
Knowing there is someone who understands the legal aspects of special education helps parents to focus on finding the best educational experience for their child in a school that is open and accepting to children who are differently abled.
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Getting to Know You
One of the simplest ways to advocate for special education is to provide opportunities for the school and community to see firsthand the inclusion of students with special needs as they participate alongside other students. Honest and open discussions of a student's abilities and needs helps their classmates understand why Jane must wear a special hearing devise or why Johnny is strapped into a wheel chair. Discussions about how all of the students have different abilities and talents soon create an atmosphere of understanding.
There are several ways to create special education advocacy within the classroom.
- mind-map ways all the students are different - for example: some wear glasses, some have allergies, some like dogs, some like to read
- if there is a student with special needs that requires special equipment or modifications, allow for open discussion as to what the purpose for the equipment/modification is and how it helps the student
- have a special education awareness day
- have books that discuss various special needs (everything from dyslexia to multiple handicaps) in the classroom library
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Special Education Awareness
Depending on the school, Special Education Awareness Day could be observed by one classroom for the benefit of the entire school or by the entire school for the benefit of the community. Planning for events should be made well in advance of the actual observance (several months to a year depending on the size of the observance).
Some ideas for the observance include:
- Plays, chorus or band concerts in which students with special needs participate with their peers. Incorporation of sign language by all the children would add to the festivities.
- Stations with various opportunities for students to see, feel, and listen to special needs equipment or modifications. For instance: wheel chairs could be made available from the local hospital with students being allowed to push each other through an obstacle course. (This can be an opportunity for discussion on accessibility.) Alternatively, students can be blindfolded with a friend to lead them around. (This enables discussion on how it feels not to see as well as how properly to assist someone with visual impairments.
- Computers might be set up with various special education programs for the student to see demonstrated.
- Awards can be given to students, teachers and community members in appreciation of their advocating for special education
- Presentations could be given by professionals who can speak on subjects such as Special Need Challenges and Fears, Living with Special Needs, etc.
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It Takes Everyone
Special education advocacy assists students as well as the community to understand that we are all different - physically, intellectually and emotionally - but yet we are all the same in that we all wish for respect, friends, and kindness. Schools and classrooms, in which special education advocacy is part of the norm, help everyone.