Child support essentials is a new series which looks at the essential roles in a special needs child's life, how they help the child and the ways they can hinder when applied improperly.
Advocates play a very important role in a special needs child's life. They help the child get access to support and services, they stand up for the child's rights and they promote the child's needs without damaging their self esteem.
In my opinion, the best advocates have a similar condition to the child they are supporting and they have a unique understanding of the child. I also think that the best advocates are free.
I like to think of myself as an advocate. I spend a lot of time trying to raise awareness of Asperger's syndrome and "bust the myths about it". I'm always fighting negativity and highlighting the positive aspects of Asperger's syndrome. My efforts are directed towards helping others to understand and to better accept the differences in those on the autism spectrum - and to help those on the spectrum to more easily fit in with the nuances of our society.
I don't spend a lot of time working with individual children, other than my own, to help them overcome their natural difficulties but I do help some in my capacity as a Cub Scout leader.
Most of my efforts are directed towards increasing the understanding of the adults who live and work with the children I seek to support.
Some advocates require payment and will then attend school meetings as an intermediary. We did this once and I completely regret the experience.
Bringing your own "expert" to the table to "take your side" will only increase tensions between you and the school. What better way to say, "I don't trust you" to your child's teachers than to bring someone with you to refute their every point. School meetings should be a place for peaceful cooperation and mutually beneficial advancement, not competition.
Sure, you'll probably have your "best school meeting ever" while the advocate is present as the teachers will agree to most of your proposals no matter how stupid they sound. Unfortunately, you're more than likely to discover that nothing has been implemented a few weeks down the track and the school will tell you that they tried the new methods but they simply "didn't work". You'll discover that you spent a lot of money and wasted a valuable IEP meeting just to hear the teachers pretend to agree with you for once - it's just not worth it.
Instead, use your advocates as sounding boards for ideas or resources for questions. If possible, offer the advocate as a resource for your child's teachers; someone they can ask questions of too. You'll find that the best teachers will really appreciate you providing them with an independent expert and will make use of your advocate at least once. Anything that you do to increase their knowledge of autism in a positive way will help not only your child but all others they come into contact with throughout their teaching lives.
A good advocate won't let emotions get in the way of truth and if they're not related to the child in question can often offer unbiased advice and insight that can make a real difference in your child's education.