Five Ways You Can Advocate for Your Special Needs Student


With a special needs student, it is hard to create balance between allowing the school to make decisions on your child’s behalf and being a thorn in the school’s side. As a professional advocate, a trained teacher and lawyer working exclusively in the field of holistic advocacy within school systems at every age, I know from experience how tough this is.

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Here are some tips to keep in mind while advocating for your special needs student.

  1. Set up a meeting.  Although this sounds like a simple rule, there is usually a lot that can be accomplished through establishing an open dialogue with your child’s teacher. Bring him or her coffee and ask what you can do to make your student’s educational experience more effective. You can also ask what he or she observes works for your student academically.
  2. Change the power dynamic.  One of the problems I hear with my clients is that they often feel powerless in meetings and in academic settings. Change the power dynamic! Ask at the beginning of the term to be informed of any changes in your child’s performance so you can take proactive steps to improve it.
  3. There is power in numbers.  Make allies and friends with other mothers, fathers and caregivers of students with special needs. Compare stories, start a group on social media and advocate together if there is a problem.
  4. Keep organized records and notes.  Keep records of all official and unofficial documents about your student and give it to the teacher at the beginning of each school year. Also, keep notes about what works the best for your student so your teacher can understand the student better and tailor any lesson planning to accommodate your learner.
  5. Kindly set norms and expectations.  When you hand your paperwork over (I know some clients like to keep a binder), also include helpful hints and contact numbers. You are THE expert on your child. Most teachers I know would be exceedingly grateful for this type of advocacy. This assures your teacher, principal or counselor that you hold high expectations for your student, despite any learning differences, and that they should too!

In short, keeping it all together – your student, your team and your material – is vital for the success of your special needs student. Keeping on top of it all puts you far closer to victory.

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Katie headshotKatie Schellenberg, a magna cum laude graduate herself, is the CEO and founder of, an educational concierge and academic advocacy approach that attempts to create and cultivate lifelong success through learning. Katie is also a member of the California State Bar. She is passionate about learning and education; her background experience includes working with students with a wide range of disabilities, teaching a wide swath of subject matter. Katie has also successfully and comprehensively advocated for students at all levels of education and tutored the under-served immigrant population to become United States citizens, among other endeavors.

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