“There’s an educational advocate coming to the IEP meeting.”
Believe it or not, those were some of the first words I heard minutes into my first day of being a school-based speech-language pathologist.
I began working as a school-based SLP in Los Angeles five years ago. I worked in an elementary school with a large special education population. Within my first few days at the school, the administrator who ran IEP meetings told me education advocates often came to meetings and asked a lot of questions.
My immediate thoughts included: Did I do something wrong? What is an educational advocate? Am I getting sued or something?
Looking back, I’ve learned so much on how best to work with educational advocates, and I no longer think of them as adversaries. Here are some tips I use to communicate effectively with educational advocates—and the entire IEP team. I hope they help you, too.
Touch base before the meeting
I reach out to the parents and the educational advocate as early as possible before the IEP meeting. Learning about their concerns helps me understand ahead of time specifically what skills they want the student to improve. This lets me set goals related to those concerns. And I don’t get big surprises in the meeting.
Listen and breathe
Listen to the educational advocate during the meeting. Many times, they bring up similar concerns I want to address myself, such as a student’s behavior. They also occasionally offer clinical advice, so I learned over time to just listen, breathe, and politely share my professional expertise in response. It’s also OK to say no. Listen to the advocate’s rationale and collaborate, but set your boundaries, especially regarding service-delivery methods.
Get parents involved
Many advocates ask for “more speech time” for the student. A majority of students on my caseload use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Often—and rightfully so—advocates say the student needs more speech time. However, instead of adding sessions, I ask them and the IEP team questions about the student’s use of AAC throughout the rest of the school day and at home. If needed, I offer suggestions for increasing use.
Something I started doing in the past few years with good results involves scheduling time to work with the families. For example, I write on the IEP for parents to participate in monthly meetings with the SLP and discuss their child’s communication needs. Advocates usually appreciate this effort as a strategy to improve carryover with AAC.
Advocate for yourself
Unfortunately, not every meeting goes smoothly. For example, one advocate verbally agreed with me and our occupational therapist (OT) on a student’s current skills, goals, and service recommendations. After the meeting, we noticed the comments on the IEP from the family/advocate said: “Disagree with Speech and OT recommendations.” At our next meeting, I asked the reason for the comment and reminded everyone about their verbal agreement during the previous meeting.
The parents said they had no problem with our services but wanted to change the classroom placement. The educational advocate, however, verbally attacked me and said I needed to grow thicker skin, among other things. I spoke up and let the advocate know the written comment on the IEP indicating disagreement causes issues for all professionals serving the student. I added that we all should collaborate by being honest about our perspectives.
I’ve learned sometimes people put things back on you to protect themselves, but you can remain professional and civil while advocating for yourself.
You’re the professional and you know the best practices for speech-language intervention.
What are your strategies for working with an educational advocate? Please share in the comment section below.
Jasmin Nikzad Davoodi, MS, CCC-SLP, works in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She is also an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication; and 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity. email@example.com