As professionals who help parents of children with special needs navigate the special education process, special education advocates have a firm understanding of special education laws and regulations. They use their knowledge of childhood disabilities and disorders to determine whether these children qualify for special education services in public schools. A career as a special education advocate is suitable for people who are passionate about helping kids with disabilities.
Obtain Relevant Training
Although there are no specific education requirements for special education advocates, you should be knowledgeable about disabilities such as dyslexia, auditory processing disorder and autism, as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other disability rights laws. The best way to obtain this knowledge is to pursue a bachelor’s degree in special education, psychology, law or another related field. Industry organizations such as the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates also offer special advocate training programs that can get you started. The one-year COPAA program combines virtual classroom instruction, individual and group assignments, and self-paced Web learning to nurture advocates.
Develop the Skills
To be an effective special education advocate, you need to be a compassionate person with strong interpersonal and teamwork skills. You must be able to establish collaborative working relationships with families from diverse cultural backgrounds. You need strong analytical and information-gathering skills to evaluate the academic progress of children with special needs, and acquire information on the local support resources that are available to these children. Clear communication skills are essential as well because the role involves explaining the applications of various special education laws to parents and caregivers.
Obtain Professional Certification
The National Special Education Advocacy Institute awards a board-certified education advocate credential that can enhance your knowledge of special education methodologies and, consequently, your professional credibility. To earn this designation, you must complete a training program that requires you to attend industry seminars, gain practicum experience and pass an examination on a range of special education issues. The program is open to everyone, from parents with no relevant training to special education teachers, behavioral scientists and lawyers.
Early in your career as a special education advocate, you can find employment at school districts, special education consultancies, law firms and advocacy groups. After gaining several years of experience, you can move into private practice by starting your own special education advocacy business. To succeed in self-employment, you need strong business skills to price your services correctly and personnel management skills to supervise newly qualified advocates who may volunteer or find paid work in your firm.