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7 Tips for Becoming a 'Warrior Parent' as You Navigate Special Education for Your Child

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Parent advocates in special education know what needs to get done but struggle at times to know how to do it. We recognize the importance of identifying our children’s learning opportunities or monitoring their provider services. But how do you go about achieving high results like some parents with strong advocacy skills? The ones who seem to get so much more accomplished behind the scenes?

Enter warrior parents.

Over the past 15 years as a parent to a child with disabilities, I’ve been curious to know how some parents achieve so much in special education — and they do so with grit, courage, vigor and common sense.

These parents seek victory consistently, unwilling to move from their line of thinking and question everything they are told about the system and delivery of special education to their child.

Granted, each of us has our style of advocating and no one way will win out every time.

Here are some specific things that parents armed with the knowledge in basic special education rights and strong advocacy skills do in the early weeks of school reopening. Their overall strategy is to maximize their child’s learning opportunities, understand how to reinforce concepts taught in school, and avoid delays in provider services early in the school year. And they do it with an indomitable spirit.

Here’s a glimpse into their best practices and tips:


They visit and observe their child’s learning site from day one. They carefully watch and take notes during service provider sessions, class times, para sessions, lunch times and make frequent visits to the classroom. Picking up or dropping off their children (even in high school) inside classrooms are common habits among these parents which allow them to engage with the teachers more.

Goal: Identify issues that need attention early on.


They review their child’s list of “items” from the previous IEP to make sure the agreed upon items continue to rollover into the current year. (assistive technology devices, BIP, transportation, modified curriculum, paraprofessional, sensory and visual supports, substitute para plan, iPad, laptop, timer, gait belt, communication logs, etc.). We all know delay can be the biggest enemy.

Goal: Minimize delay in learning opportunities.


They gather service providers’ contact information, their dates and times of service in the first week and ask what logs exist that capture provider visits and absences. Services should begin in week one (the program specialist, the district administrator is responsible for the flow of all IEP services) unless stipulated differently in the IEP.

Goal: Get provider services started right away.


They communicate with all service providers about the day, time and duration of their visits in week one via email or phone. When services don’t begin in week one, they contact the program specialist right away. Furthermore, cross check the service minutes with the agreed upon terms in the IEP for any inconsistencies. And find out from the teacher her preferred way of communication. Nowadays, many prefer texting.

Goal: Receive final class schedule.


They regularly correspond with the teacher and program specialist starting in week one. Always ask for a specific date when issues will be resolved and follow up on that date. With so many moving parts to the IEP team, things don’t always move efficiently, but your email will help them take notice. The longer you wait, the harder it is to turn things around. Delay can be everyone’s enemy.

Goal: Build strong relationships.


Ask about dates for back-to-school night, teacher-parent conferences or minimum days. Don’t miss the back-to-school night to ask your questions, meet other parents and find out how to volunteer in the classroom or remotely.

Goal: Get involved.


Get a copy of the school’s policy and procedure on disciplinary actions. It’s important to know what methods will be used to discipline your child and how you’ll be notified. Your child may never get sent to the principal’s office, but it’s important to know how undesired classroom behavior will be handled particularly when a behavior intervention plan (BIP) isn’t in the IEP for your child.

Goal: Understand school’s disciplinary policy.

If you haven’t thought of adopting some of these successful tactics, grab this checklist and get going. Most parents are led to believe it takes a couple of weeks or a month for things to be aligned for their child after school reopens, so they don’t get started on advocating for their child from day one. Big mistake.

Parents need to make sure that flow of services begins early on. The quicker you take the time to observe, communicate and follow-up on issues of concern, interest and support, the faster you can minimize the delay in services for your child.

What differentiates parents getting high results from those with barely adequate results? Questioning with authenticity and respect, being persistent, consistent, timely with solving issues at hand and growing your understanding of special education rights. Granted, it’s hard work and a huge commitment, but if not you, then who? And if not now, then when?

Remember, advocating for appropriate tools and supports in place for your child and monitoring their implementation will only increase the likelihood of your child achieving his/her IEP goals, which should be the top strategy for parents.

Being a high-level advocate means going to the next level for your child.

For more information on special education laws, visit Wright’s Law and Disability Scoop.

As a parent or caregiver, what have you done in the early weeks of school to ensure that your child has a successful school year?

Learn more at Special Needs in My City.

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Thinkstock image by julief514

Originally published: October 25, 2017
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