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June 28, 2022 Special Needs Families

The Role of a Special Needs Advocate

By: Richard Weinfeld, Executive Director, Weinfeld Education Group, LLC

A special education consultant, commonly referred to as an “advocate,” can be invaluable in providing assistance to families and to the attorneys that represent them. Special education consultants have an important role to play in assuring students receive the appropriate special education services to which they are legally entitled, and in determining the best school for students. A special education consultant may be engaged at any point in the student’s educational career, but the role is especially important when there are disputes. Whether it’s a dispute about special education services or a dispute, in Family Court, about where a child should live, the special education consultant will develop an expert opinion and be available to testify about this opinion. Many Family Court decisions turn on what school will be best for the children involved. It is the expert testimony of a special education consultant that often makes the difference in these cases. Even when there are no special education needs, an expert consultant can develop an expert opinion about what is best for the involved children.

It is important to note that an effective special education consultant will see the student as their client.

It is important to note that an effective special education consultant will see the student as their client.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

A special education consultant develops their expert opinion in a systematic way. First, they conduct a thorough review of the student’s educational records. Typically, the next step will be to conduct an observation of the student in school, without the student being aware they are there to see him or her. The consultant will research and, when possible, visit any school options that may be under consideration for the involved children. The special education consultant will speak to all involved staff in the school, and any providers that the parents may have engaged outside of the school, in an effort to understand each of their perspectives about the strengths and needs of the students. Finally, the consultant meets with the parents, and/or attorney, to ask additional questions and share their expert opinion. Based on all of the above, the consultant will typically issue a report, and be prepared to testify about their findings.

When selecting a special education consultant, parents and attorneys should consider expertise, style, effectiveness, and affordability. While anyone can call themselves an “advocate,” parents and attorneys should engage someone who has an advanced degree in education and who has worked in public and/or private schools. They style of the advocate is also important. Advocates who seek to be collaborative with school staff, rather than adversarial, are much more likely to be effective in getting the needed information and in obtaining positive results for the students. It is important to know the advocate’s success rate in achieving positive results for their client. Finally, some advocates will offer a sliding scale, making their services affordable to all possible clients.

In conclusion, it is important to note that an effective special education consultant will see the student as their client. Although it is the parents who hire the consultant, the consultant should be independent in developing an expert opinion that will provide for the best educational outcomes for the students in question. Advocates who are expert, collaborative, and student-centered achieve great results for the students they represent. At the same time, an expert opinion, from an expert special education consultant can lead to a successful outcome for parents, and the attorneys that represent them.

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Rich Weinfeld

Executive Director, Weinfeld Education Group, LLC

Rich Weinfeld, Executive Director of Weinfeld Education Group LLC,, is a practicing special education consultant. He supervises a group of 16 advocates who provide expert services, both in person and virtually, to clients throughout the United States. Mr. Weinfeld is in his 49th year as an educator, has taught at the graduate level, and has authored 6 books on a variety of special needs topics. He can be contacted at [email protected]