By Nam Waldman, Esq.


Children, adolescents and young adults need to learn to become effective advocates independent of their parents. Children can and do learn advocacy skills by seeing effective advocacy modeled by a parent. When parents return home discouraged after attending a school meeting, children may not be inspired to learn effective methods of dealing with their responsibility for self-advocacy. Once children leave high school, they must advocate for themselves, and IEP meetings do not continue indefinitely throughout life.
With adequate preparation, time and effort, a parent can partner with an advocate to work towards immediately change the educational environment for children with disabilities. In the long term, teaching advocacy skills is the most appropriate use of an advocate’s time: teaching the necessary executive functioning skills of advocacy to mothers and fathers is critical so that parents can teach their children. My goals, as both an advocate and a parent, are simple: (1) to educate every child, and (2) to teach every parent I meet to become a better advocate. We are always improving as advocates. I believe that once every student becomes an effective advocate for him or herself, we will see less truancy, defiant behavior, depression, and other manifestations of discontent with the failure of social institutions to provide a basic need: education and the self respect it brings.
It is especially important for students who have left or graduated from high school to advocate effectively for themselves. After high school there is no longer an IEP team to consider and evaluate a student’s academic needs. The necessary educational services and accommodations must instead be articulated and requested by the student. It is up to older students to decide whether they want to divulge to their post-secondary schools that they have disabilities, and then to take the next steps — to identify and then request the accommodations or services they will need. By then, they will have learned from their parents how to effectively get the accommodations and educational services needed.
Every parent of a child with a disability who is a student in California has the right to receive one free book annually. It is titled A Composite of Laws, published by the California Department of Education. The book is published each year and we are currently about to see the 31st edition, containing laws enacted the previous year about special education in the State of California. It contains all sorts of wonderful resources.
In my opinion, the index in the back is the best part of the book. It contains ‘searchwords’ for quick reference, much like an encyclopedia’s index. For example, if you have a question and want to read about ‘least restrictive environment,’ all you have to do is to look up the word in the index, and turn to the pages for the information you want. Using ‘flags’ to write on — and keep your place — will help you to organize your research in A Composite of Laws. Get the book by telephoning (800) 995-4099 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. PST, Monday through Friday. Be patient, and prepared to identify yourself as “a parent of a child with a disability” and tell the person who answers the name of the school your child attends so that you are eligible to receive a free copy (we don’t need to identify our children). Otherwise, the book is $29.95 plus $5.95 shipping and handling. You will need to provide an address so the book can be shipped to you.
Visit this link for more information from the California Department of Education:

Nan Waldman, Esq. is a special education and disabilities consultant with 20 years of experience in the field. She is also a parent and primary caregiver of a child with disabilities, a teacher, an advocate and a lawyer. Nan Waldman, Esq. can be reached by email at