Assertiveness and Effective Parent Advocacy
by Marie Sherrett

I find that parents of children with special education needs come in several categories:

 Pacifists or those who gets things done;
 Clinging vines or parent advocates;
 Silent victims or fighters;
 Dreamers or crusaders;
 Waiters or initiators;
 Bombshells or assertive parents;
 Appeasing compromisers or action heroes.

Which are you?

Parents are not assertive if they:

Beat around the bush;
Fail to describe problems;
Feel guilty or are afraid to be vocal;
Agree with professionals to keep peace;
Ignore the right to services;
Leave everything to others;
Accept excuses for inappropriate or inadequate services;
Beg for what the law says a child should have;
Abdicate to others the right to advocate for a child;
Depend on others to advocate;
Give up because of red tape;
Are too hasty to act;
Fail to act;
Accept the status quo;
Give in to defeat;
Are uncomfortable with accomplishments;
Discourage your child from having hope for success.

What do you do?

Assertive parents

Express themselves clearly, directly and without guilt;
Are not intimidated;
Prepare for meetings;
Stay together;
Are informed;
Keep records;
Effectively communicate;
Demonstrate self-confidence;
Advocate effectively;
Are self-reliant and independent;
Analyze problems;
Organize to effect change;
Are positive and strong;
Have pride;
Encourage others and hold people accountable.

Does this describe you?

Advocacy helps you get services for all special education children in the least restrictive environment. Then you can participate, plan for educational programs, and get legislation passed.

Advocacy opens new doors so children may become part of the community. Advocacy knocks down barriers and prepares children for independence.

To meet others, you can
Publish a letter or article for your local papers
Pass out flyers at school
Organize public meetings
Encourage volunteers
Have goals and objectives
Talk to the media (I love to do this!)

None of this is easy but the rewards can be fantastic!

Remember: Parents put together Public Law 94-142. Parents who vote urged Congress to pass the law that became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

You can make things better for the next generation without filing for due process. How?

You must learn the art of persuasion, advocacy-style!

There is both safety and strength in numbers.

If you can go over a hill and change a classroom, you can go over a mountain and change a state's respite care services, early infant and toddler program, inclusive educational situations and training manuals. There is no end to the positive changes one parent can achieve! Together, we are more powerful!

Now these things cannot occur overnight. But if a parent says to me, "What can I do? I'm only one person," I say, "You have no idea the power you have."

In five years, our Chapter made local and state changes. None of our parents felt alone.

You, too, can change the world for those with special education needs and disabilities.

Am I asking a lot? Yes, I am.

I am asking you to learn, read and network. You must take these steps for your children and the children who will come along behind your children.



From the York Region District School Board

What is an IEP?

An IEP is a written plan. It is a working document which describes the strengths and needs of an individual exceptional pupil, the special education program and services established to meet that pupil's needs, and how the program and services will be delivered. It also describes the student's progress.

The IEP Summarizes the Following

 student's strengths and needs

 medical/health information

 assessment data

 student's current level of achievement in each program area

 goals and specific expectations for the student

 program modifications (changes required to grade-level expectations in the Ontario Curriculum)

 accommodations (supports, services that will help your child access the curriculum and demonstrate learning)

 special education services provided to the student

 assessment strategies for reviewing the student's achievements and progress

 regular updates, showing dates, results and recommendations

 a Transition Plan (over age 14)

How Does an IEP Work?

An IEP outlines the special education programs and services your child will receive. There are five phases in the development of an IEP.

1. Gather information.

2. Set the direction.

3. Develop the plan.

4. Carry out the planned activities.

5. Review and update the IEP.

Contributions from as many sources as possible will benefit your child.

As the Parent, What Role Do I Play?

Parents play a powerful supporting role in the IEP process. It is important to understand and participate in the five phases of the IEP process. As well, be sure to ask for a copy of your child's IEP within 30 days, so that you can support the planned activities at home.

You know things about your child's approach to learning that no one else knows. Be sure to tell the teacher about your child's:

 likes, dislikes and interests;

 interest in extra-curricular activities; 

 talents and abilities;

 family relationships and dynamics (including extended family and pets);

 peer relationships and dynamics; and

 family routines and schedules.

You may wish to consider making a 'portfolio' of this information for your child's teacher under the following headings:


* Physical


* Educational

* Cultural

* Emotional

* Social

Setting the Direction

Students are most successful when all team members work together towards achievable goals. As a parent:

 keep the focus on your child at all times;

 tell the teacher the hopes you have for your child's learning;

 bring ideas and information;

 ask questions; and

 value everyone's input.

Developing the IEP

How Can I Contribute to Planning Goals for My Child?

Beginning with your child's strengths and needs is an important first step. You can help by:

 including your child in the discussions; and

 telling the teacher what you hope your child will accomplish this year.

Carrying out the IEP

There are many things you can do at home to help your child to reach his/her goals.

1. Talk to the teacher about what s/he is trying to accomplish.

2. Do what you can at home to try to support your child's goals.

3. Take every opportunity to communicate with your child's teacher.

4. Provide additional insights and resources to the school.

5. Share significant personal/family events as relevant.

Review and Update the IEP

Your child's progress toward his/her goals will be reviewed. Then, the IEP will be updated to include different strategies, approaches and/or resources considered necessary to help the learning process.

 Talk to your child's teacher about the goals that have been set.

 Communicate regularly with your child's teacher regarding progress.

 Look for evidence of growth towards goals on your child's report card.

 Recommend changes in goals, strategies and/or resources or support where you see a need.

 Be actively involved in discussions at school when your child is changing grades, schools or moving into the workplace.

Many organizations are available to support you in understanding the IEP and/or to provide additional resources. Your school's principal can provide the names of the organizations that serve your area. This information is also available in the Special Education Advisory Committee's brochure, available at your local school.


Are the most important link in the chain of their child's life.

Parents of children with Special Needs are on the firing line day and night with school, home and community.

Being a parent of a child with special needs is a full-time job in itself, without the added stress of being an Advocate, Teacher, Spouse and having a career.

We feel their failures and our hearts ache as we watch them struggle and sometimes give up.

However, the most important thing that parents must be encouraged to remember is that they are doing and putting all of their love into what is best for their child.

What more could a child ask for?









Parenting is particularly difficult and stressful when children do not "measure up" to family or community expectations. Parents need assistance in coping with their own feelings and frustrations;


Beliefs that Lead to Internal Stress:

  1. Giving 100% every day is what every parent is expected to do.

  2. The success or failure of my children depends entirely on me.

  3. I will never be bored as a parent.

  4. I will be seen by society as a good and honorable person because of  the effort I put into being a good parent.

  5. I refuse to let anyone else care for or influence my child.

  6. I should always deny my own needs for rest and recreation in order to help my children.

  7. I should spend every possible moment with my children.

  8. I should feel guilty if I need a break or want some attention for myself.

  9. I should do everything for my children and not require that they take on responsibilities that they are old enough to handle.

  10. One role in my life can satisfy all my needs and can support all my dreams.


* The Right to Feel Angry

* The Right to Seek Another Opinion

* The Right to Privacy

* The Right to Keep Trying

* The Right to Stop Trying

* The Right to Set Limits

* The Right to Be a Parent

* The Right to be Unenthusiastic

* The Right to be Annoyed

* The Right to Time Off

* The Right to be the Expert in Charge

* The Right to Dignity

Tips to Parents on Home Records

1 Medical and Developmental History

1 Special Education Laws

1 Names, Addresses, and Phone Numbers of Organizations as well as People

1 Your Notes About Your Child's Strengths and Weaknesses, Likes and Dislikes, and Learning and Behavioral Characteristics

1 Report Cards, Progress Cards, and Samples of Schoolwork (with completion)

1 Your Own Notes About Problems Encountered in School and Solutions that Worked and Didn't Work

1 Evaluation Reports and IEPs

1 Questions Asked of Professionals and their Responses

1 Notes in Visits to Special Education Programs

1 Any Other Items You Feel Help Give a "Picture" of Who Your Child is in Relations to the Educational Setting

Note: BBB Autism is not responsible for information found on links or in books listed here.

August 11, 2002