Children and youth with special needs and disabilities sometimes get lost in the public school system that is charged with guiding their education. These are among the most at-risk youth, needing comprehensive early intervention, educational plans, community services, and parenting programs to ensure their individual needs are addressed and they reach their potential. A special education advocate provides assistance for parents who need support in seeking and obtaining necessary early intervention educational programs or other therapeutic services for their children
Between 8 and 16 percent of young children have special physical, mental, or behavioral needs, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This can prevent them from reaching their fullest potential unless they receive an individualized program of care and education that addresses these needs. Many nonprofit organizations, such as your United Way, work with other volunteer-driven community programs that pair early intervention and education programs with medical and community services in order to meet the needs of these families.
Doctors say one of the most important things for children with special needs is early intervention. Typically run through the education system, this intervention offers care, therapy, and other resources to ensure the child is prepared to begin school. Volunteers within the special needs community work with policy makers to advocate for high-quality early intervention programs.
Once in school, parents work with therapists, doctors, and school faculty to develop an individualized education program (IEP), which will help the child to learn according to his or her ability. Unfortunately, this process is not always as easy as it should be. Communication barriers exist between therapists and schools, and parents can sometimes feel caught in the middle. A special education advocate may support the parents through this process, keeping the child's best interest in mind.
Students graduating from high school and entering adulthood face another set of challenges. At this point in their lives, volunteer-driven and community-based programs become even more important as they focus on employment and the possibility of independent living.
Volunteers also advocate for local and state policies that promote access to and funding for services for children and adults with special needs. You can volunteer to be a special education advocate in your community.