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When I learned to Become a Parent Advocate

Alethea Mshar
Special needs mom and Blogger
11/04/19  12:56 PM PST

As I sat through the planning meeting for my son’s next year in school my heart sank. I not only disliked the plan, but I also suspected that it was inappropriate and violated the two major pillars of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Public Education Act), known as FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education) and LRE (Least Restrictive Environment). I had disagreed with the team before and hustled to make my case for my kids and ensure that their IEP (Individualized Educational Program) was to my standards, but this was a whole different scenario. I wasn’t certain, but I was pretty sure they didn’t have a leg to stand on and I knew I needed more time and more information. 

So I did what thousands of parents have done before and since. I left the table without agreeing to anything, determined to figure out what to do.

I dug in…

I dug in and found resources for free advocates in my area, and used my Google skills, which were well-honed from medical conditions, and used them to formulate a plan. I dug into the Wrightslaw website, asked other parents and found local and nationwide parent advocate groups. I learned to ask questions, to put on my poker face when I wasn’t sure I could win, and to never let them see me sweat. I held my tears and curses until I was in the car or at least close, and thanked them for their time even when it felt like a waste of mine.

Several months later, when we finally came to an agreement, I realized that I and one other parent were the only two people who fought. But all of my son’s peers getting special education services in that district benefited from the results. The sense of pride I had from not only meeting my son’s needs but also ensuring proper services other for kids whose parents were also uncomfortable with the setting.

I have become a parent advocate. And you can too. 

As a non-confrontational person, it wasn’t a role I had foreseen playing, for that matter, I didn’t even know I had it in me. I felt too small standing against the whole team, the whole school or even the whole district. But I knew what my kids needed, and knew what I had to do. Even if I didn’t get what I requested, I knew I had to request it and stand my ground.

That was the first of many, and we aren’t done yet. I’d like to say it’s easier now, many years and standoffs later, but if it is, it’s not much. I have gotten used to it, though. I’ve learned to be that parent and to do it with a smile, to trust my gut and never agree to anything that makes me queasy. I have become a parent advocate.

And you can too.


inclusion on the playground

Alethea Mshar is a Special Needs Mom and Blogger.

Read her blog, Ben’s Writing, Running Mom

Follow her on Facebook



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