Advocating Your Child's Needs and Understanding the Process

   Erin, Lopresti, NCC, LCPC, CADC


Sometimes we can miss the most obvious warning signs that our children are having trouble at school. Many times, the signs that they are struggling can be missed and along with it the opportunity to help them navigate through these challenges. Typically, an increase in stress will always increase symptoms. However, this can sometimes be brushed off as a child who is not complying with rules, and categorized as having behavioral issues. Here are a few common signs that could indicate that your child could be having trouble with academics at school; somatic complaints of headaches, stomach aches the night before or the morning of school, throwing tantrums prior to leaving to school, avoiding certain activities during school, frequent bathroom and water breaks, also visiting the nurse several times, redirected several times in class, notes sent home from teachers about the child’s behavior. Please note that it is extremely easy for kids to fall through the cracks and go unnoticed due to their high IQ, perfectionism, social likability, and their strengths masking their deficits. It is equally important to talk to your child directly, in addition to looking for the warning signs. Reach out to the child’s teacher or schedule a conference. I always promote open communication with the teachers. Hopefully, they also will be your ally and child’s advocate through the process.

After you have identified that your child may need accommodations at school, it’s important to take immediate action. The first step and possibly the most important, document everything! If it’s not on paper, it didn’t happen. Sending a certified letter or email to the principal requesting an IEP meeting (Individualized Education Plan) would be appropriate. When using email, cc. everyone that is part of the team which could include the principal, teacher, school psychologist, social worker and yourself. Be clear what you are requesting whether it’s for the child to be evaluated or to discuss if the child meets the requirements for special education services. Schools do not have the right to turn you down for testing. As a parent you have the legal right to request that your public school evaluate your child for special education services. Federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as amended in 2004 (IDEA), gives you that legal right (Wrightslaw). If you do not agree with the results, then your child can be evaluated outside of school. Pediatricians or private practice can often provide excellent referrals. The second step: take the time to know your parental rights and fully understand the process of qualifying for either and IEP or 504 Plan. If you are unsure if the school system is best meeting the needs of your child, seek the services of professionals skilled in this area. The third step would be attending the domain meeting and understanding the process. If you are unsure about the time frame, contact your states Division of Special Education at the state department of education. Usually, a domain meeting can be overwhelming for most people.The team meeting could include, the school nurse, school psychologist, social worker, the child’s teacher, special education teacher, etc. Determine ahead of time if you need to take an Educational Advocate with you for support. The continued steps of the IEP process would include eligibility, development of the IEP, implementation of the IEP, and then continued evaluations and reviews.

Working with the child’s school as a team approach is key in helping advocate for your child’s needs. Checking in with your child often when noticing atypical behaviors can help identify the issue early on. Don’t forget to team up with the teacher! They are with your child most of the day and want to help your child succeed. You as a parent know your child the best: don’t be afraid to reach out and voice concerns that you notice in your child. The chances of a child being successful in school increase when parents and the school work together as a team to meet the child’s needs.

Parent Resources

Center for Parent Information & Resources:

Illinois State Board of Education: