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  • Writer's picturePathways to Hope

How To Advocate For Your Child with Special Needs

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

An advocate is someone who supports on another’s behalf. The word is actually from the Latin meaning “added voice”. This can be anyone from a family member to legal counsel. In the large majority of cases, this role falls to a family member, and usually a parent(s). In the role of the advocate you want to help, but sometimes you are not sure how, or where to start. To help yourself navigate through the various public and private services for your child, you need to be informed. Here are three things you need to know:

Know Your ‘Stuff’ -Be organized! Get a binder and a three hole punch and keep original, signed copies of all reports and documents, especially assessments and the recommendations -Educate yourself through workshops, information sessions, other trusted sources -Know which legislation is relevant to your child’s needs -Access the policies of the agency via website (i.e. School Board Special Education Policy) -Look for parent and community support groups to connect with like minded others -Educate your extended family and friends -Know what you want in terms of goals, vision, and next steps for your child

Know Your Audience -This could include, but is not limited to: school, medical, legal, political, media, community, family, advocacy group, and each group will have a different role and ‘jargon’ -You will need to identify who are in positions of decision making within those groups and direct your resources in that direction -Present your information in a positive and professional way, be solution focused, goal oriented, and not blaming or defensive -Listen, and be open -Write down your questions or comments before a meeting so your agenda gets covered. Keep notes (and ask for minutes). This will help you keep your focus during meetings, and manage emotions -Facilitate the community connections and develop allies. -Bring an ally to meetings for support

Know Your Child (Youth/Adult) -Understand and research any diagnosis(es) -Know your child’s strengths and areas of need -Know them in a variety of settings and be open to the shared observations of others outside the home, in those settings -Consider having a portfolio of highlights as well as a recent photo for any meetings to remember who the focus is -Maintain open communication with your child about their experiences, be their voice and include them as much as possible in the process

Confidence = Collaboration = Communication

Once you know your information, you will be more confident in any setting as an advocate. Your knowledge helps establish a vision that you can communicate effectively to collaborate with others. As others enter this cycle of communication and collaboration, a positive feedback loop helps all parties move towards optimal outcomes through common goals and shared vision.

Research indicates better outcomes for children and youth when their patents are actively involved, and a knowledgeable parent is an asset to any team. Advocacy should be a win-win scenario. However, sometimes collaboration can be a daunting task. The process can become stuck, and problems can arise. If you are looking for assistance, there are supports available. Pathways to Hope offers a range of supports that can help you, your child, and your family work towards more successful outcomes, including advocacy services.

In order to help families better advocate for their child(ren), Pathways To Hope is offering 2 free information evenings:

1. Navigating The Education System For Your Child With Special Needs Monday January 16th 6.30pm – 7.30pm

2. Ontario Autism Program Information Evening Friday January 20th 6.30pm – 7.30pm

To register for either of these free events you can call us at 519.302.2300 or 519.751.0728 or email

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