Sunday, November 20, 2011

Choosing the Right Advocate Can be Difficult

Hi everyone, thank you for checking in today. This week has been a real emotional roller coaster. I am still dealing with the aftermath of my car accident from 2 weeks ago, So I have not been training the way I should. I plan to get back on track this week and begin the climb towards my revised weight loss goal. I want to get my overall body weight back to 200 pounds, which would mean I will lose a total of 66 pounds. As for the fundraising, our event at MaGerks Pub did not have the turn out I had hoped for. I do want to thank all the people that did come out and make it a fun evening. On a VERY positive note, we received a huge $5,000.00 donation that has put our total at just over $9,600.00!

I wanted to take a few moments and talk about the value and importance of  selecting the right advocate for your child with autism. For those of you with typical children, you may not understand what an advocate does for you. Put simply an Advocate is just what the word says. It is a person who has your child's best intentions  and presents that on your behalf to the public school system. The advocates value is they understand the process of dealing with the public school system, they know your child's rights and they can recommend the necessary actions to get the services your child needs. I am sure many of you are asking "why is this necessary?" The simple and unfortunate truth is that the public school system does not have unlimited resources so if they see an opportunity to not provide a service, they don't. In fairness, the "Services" that your child may need are vast. There is no "black & white" or "yes & no " answers to what is and is not appropriate for your child's individual needs. To compound the matter, most parents ( myself included) simply don't know what we don't know. We don't know what questions to ask and we often trust the school system to do the right thing. So an advocate can be an essential part of your child's educational development.

So here is the down side to things. These are people you pay for out of your own pocket and the hourly rate can be very expensive. Our first advocate was someone that we knew, we were familiar with and we liked. They tried to help us but ultimately admitted that what our son needed was outside of their skill set. We had another company recommended to us "The Special Kids Company" in Ellicot City Maryland. That turned out to be a disaster. I wont go into details publicly, but I will say my wife and I are now VERY aware that there are many questions you need to ask before giving anyone a $500 retainer to advocate for your child..

As you can see, while this week had some great victories, it also involved some terrible defeats.

I want to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and thank you all for reading and sharing my blog with others.

Thank you, together we can do great things!

Mike Shelah


  1. It may also be worth seeing if any of the professionals you are already working with can help you advocate for the needs of your child.

    Depending on what you see as the role of the advocate (serve as your voice & support/independently evaluate and discuss your concerns, educate you & the school on the law in this area, evaluate the appropriateness of an IEP, mediate between you and the school district, etc) Many of us consider that part of our responsibilities - i have even gone so far as to become certified as a special ed advocate.

    Plus this way you have an idea about the quality of our work and we might be free (I. E. do it in the course of our other duties) but it is important to know that we may not be lawyers so our knowledge may be coming from a more clinical slant unless we have had training in the law either independently or through a certification program like the one at USD.

    If you are intending to go directly to due process (That's when you need a lawyer)most of us non lawyers will help you up to that POINT and then must hand the case over to a lawyer-which is to your benefit as well as lawyer fees are recoverable and advocacy fees are not.

  2. thank you Matthew, you certainly are thorough 8-)

  3. Sometimes the best advocate is someone who knows and loves your child well, can help you sort out the various streams of information, and is a professional who can convey your child's needs with some "authority" ( because unfortunately schools don't always respond to a parents knowledge!) One thing I encourage parents to do when seeking services outside the school system - whether it is ot, speech, developmental psychology - is to find the special person/group who will go the extra mile to work with the their child and family across all the settings in which they participate. In my practice - when we serve a family we allow time for this - even when it is not "billable" because we believe that this is best practice and that services should not be disconnected and fractured. So as a family member seeking services for your child ask the professionals you are considering whether they will take the time to serve your family this way