How can a formal observation by an Educational Advocate or private provider help your child? Having an objective pair of eyes on your child’s learning environment can be invaluable in making a case for new services, a change in placement, and more accountability with your child’s IEP, 504 Plan or Behavior Plan. It gives you an insider look into what is happening during a big part of your child’s day. Even the best district team can become less objective over time or just get in the rut of having the kid fit the program instead of individualizing the approach.
When it’s time to look at things from a new perspective strongly consider hiring an experienced advocate with a wide-range of disability experience. It isn’t advisable for a parent to do this because, frankly, your input probably won’t be considered objective and your child won’t act their usual self with you there. The staff knows that you might be looking at things from a critical standpoint and might feel even more defensive if you are there. The observer should be looking for ways to tweak how things might be improved and work with the team collaboratively, sharing information you both agree is worthwhile.
If you are hoping to make a case for therapy services, more service minutes, or even look more closely at how sensory or attention challenges their day it is always a good step to schedule an observation. Stay away from times right after school starts or immediately after a prolonged absence from school. The time should be focused not only in areas of concern but in a variety of settings. Don’t discount the value of having them observe on the playground too! There will be special hoops to jump through with your district. For example, you may have to sign special permission, time limits might be enforced, or the district might insist on an interview or professional qualifications from your advocate.
Observation is especially important if you are looking for a change in placement or are generally unhappy with the current educational setting. The class dynamic, peer interactions, and the challenges of the staff should all be investigated. It may take more than one visit to get the information that will best tell you what is happening at school. It’s generally more expensive to have a medical professional or therapist come to observe, but if a placement change is what you want, then it is something that should be strongly considered. Sometimes having the advocate go in first to highlight where the “red flag” areas are is a good first step.
If you have had a lot of communication difficulties or don’t get consistent, concrete reporting of goals one way to let the school know you are serious about addressing your concerns is to take this action. However, even if you just sense there are some issues or want to improve your child’s IEP schedule an observation about a month before your annual IEP or 3-year re-evaluation. Even though observation by any professional is just a window of time, getting updated data from time to time is a wise investment into your child’s education.