There are no better advocates for a child with special needs than their parents, according to Faith Filiault, an expert in the field who is giving a series of workshops in Wilton this fall. However, navigating through the bureaucratic maze of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and state and federal laws while avoiding emotional pitfalls can be daunting, said Ms. Filiault, a Wilton resident and 1991 graduate of Wilton High School.

With this in mind, Ms. Filiault is offering an ongoing workshop at the Wilton Family Y: "Advocating for Your Special Needs Child in School: From Emotions to Advocacy."

"It is designed to empower parents and help them successfully advocate their child's IEP," said Ms. Filiault. She is a "Wright's Law" trained special education advocate, a program developed by Pete Wright, a noted special education advocate, lawyer and author.

The Wright programs "are designed to meet the needs of parents, advocates, educators, attorneys, and health care providers who represent children with disabilities," Ms. Filiault said.

Her five-part series includes basic advocacy skills highlighting "schools as bureaucracies and the rules of the game," and "why you must become an expert about your child's disability and educational needs." The series also sheds light on laws about special education, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 and the implications of the No Child Left Behind Act for children with disabilities."

The current workshop is full, but Ms. Filiault said another six-weeks session will be offered in November. Ms. Filiault is also presenting "Crash Course in Organizing Your Child's File" on Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Wilton Congregational Church; and an ongoing series, "S.M.A.R.T. IEP Check-up," on the first Saturday of every month at Wilton Library.

"No appointment is needed," Ms. Filiault said. "Parents may bring a current copy of their child's IEP, and see if it meets the S.M.A.R.T. guidelines," or goals for student achievement.

Ms. Filiault, who is currently the PTA secretary at Wilton High School, said she got involved in the field because she has "twin nephews who both have special needs, and I was also a parent advocate for my stepson, and still assist" in this process.

Her advocacy has also extended to abused women. While living in New Hampshire, Ms. Filiault served as a community advocate for victims of domestic violence. She also "organized bone marrow drives and raised awareness about hunger," she said.

One constant in her life is making sure she understands the latest bureaucratic tangles in the field. "I am always educating myself about new regulations and policies which revolve around special education," she said.