Anne Marie Wilkinson Owner, Applied AdvocacyDec 01, 2023 11:32AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
As they navigate the education of their special needs children, parents are swallowed up by either a glut of information or a profound lack of it. As a certified special education teacher, Anne Marie Wilkinson of Applied Advocacy helps these families seek resources, solutions and peace-of-mind. Recently, Newark Life met with Anne Marie to talk about what drew her to special education, the challenges her clients face, the services she provides them with, and the influences in her life that she would like to have around a dinner table with her.
Newark Life: You have an extensive background in teaching, particularly in the field of elementary inclusion and special education, as well as a master’s in education with focus on working with children with autism and severe disabilities. What first drew you to this sector of education?
Anne Marie: I know I wanted to be a teacher from a very young age. Growing up with a neuromuscular disease, I really struggled as a child and never really believed in myself until I met my third-grade teacher. She was the first teacher who helped me really believe in myself, and I knew then that I wanted to give that feeling to others. When I was ten years old, I went to a local muscular dystrophy camp, and it was my first time being exposed to others with disabilities. I knew I was only ten years old, but I knew that my life was going to be dedicated to giving children equal opportunities and an equal playing field.
Let’s talk about what led you to start Applied Advocacy in the fall of 2022. Over time, you began to see the parents of children with Individual Education Programs (IEP) become overwhelmed with information and in many cases, not being introduced to the many resources that can help them navigate this challenging task. Too often, it’s a lonely journey. Talk about the challenges that these parents experience.
Anne Marie: The whole idea that you get one hour, one day a year to talk about your child’s educational plan with five- to ten-plus specialists spewing data, jargon, and acronyms to parents (without a background in specialized education) is insane to me. That is not nearly enough time to talk about how the child is achieving the goals that are derived from all the data.
While decisions are arrived at through data, these meetings too often focus solely on the data, which leaves no time to talk about how they are obtaining these goals. Parents aren’t learning the specialized classroom strategies being used to help their children reach their educational goals. Some very common accommodations are access to a graphic organizer, a task analysis and a visual menu. Parents struggle to balance all this information overload, and they don’t know what to ask or how to ask it. That’s where I come in.
You created Applied Advocacy in an effort to bridge that massive gap. Give me a broad overview of the services that you provide.
Anne Marie: I do all kinds of tutoring – from pre-K to sixth grade and sometimes at higher grades depending on the student’s ability level. I also do social and emotional tutoring that covers coping skills, pre-learning skills and a lot of the social and emotional skills that do not come naturally to children with disabilities – such as voice level, tone and personal space.
I also offer ADHD tutoring for students from 6th to 12th grade, who have an intrinsic motivation to manage themselves and their time better. I provide a plethora of executive function support and focus a lot on wellness/how to manage ADHD symptoms. We work on things like how to stop negative thoughts and “ADHD paralysis,” as well as analyze patterns of behavior and reward blindness. We also review schoology/google classroom and create to do lists, time block and practice self-advocacy.
An important component of Applied Advocacy is your consultations and parent behavior support sessions. What are some of the frequent topics discussed at those meetings, and how and where do you direct them?
Anne Marie: Too often, parents are struggling to establish homework, reading and play routines with their children, so I teach them how to establish a routine that not only benefits them but their children. They need to understand that their children have also just had an eight-hour, exhausting day, so they should have at least a 30-minute window of down time or screen time. Equally, parents need that same 30-minute time period for their own - think about all the times you’ve parked your car and sat on your phone just doom scrolling.
You will be amazed at the amount of buy in you have for homework/other responsibilities after this. Be sure to have another highly preferred, incentivized activity at the end of the responsibilities. I help make schedules and visualize expectations, so all members know what is expected of them and when, and what that leads to. More and more, educational progress is measured not through the development of curiosity and a passion for learning, but by test scores masked as quantifiable results.
In terms of your work with Applied Advocacy, how do you measure success? Where are the breakthroughs found?
Anne Marie: What I urge parents of students with IEPs to do is not just to evaluate their child’s progress through their standardized test scores. It is very important for parents to not just look at test scores and report cards, but also at the progress reports that assess their child’s IEP goals, because that’s what measures deficit areas. Teachers should be taking very detailed data on this, and parents have a right to see the data sheets and what the teacher is tracking.
I continually tell parents to ask their teachers for the data sheet for each marking period, because that is really the best barometer of their child’s progress. Sometimes solely a percent is reported for a goal, not each trial’s data. This one number does not give insight on open-ended goals like “task completion.” Maybe your child is great at math tasks but then greatly struggles with reading tasks; that one number does not tell you this. If you’re confused by the progress report, ask to see more.
If you could share just one piece of advice for parents who are struggling with managing the pathways of a child with special needs, what advice would you share?
Anne Marie: For children to truly master skills, they need to be generalized across various platforms and settings. It is important for parents to work on those same skills at home, it is incumbent upon parents to ask for the resources to help establish a routine. After working with students over the last ten years, I’ve come to learn that language is so important, and so I emphasize to parents that they should never talk about themselves in any negative fashion in front of their child, because that voice becomes their child’s voice.
Children will believe these qualities to be true to themselves - innate and unchangeable. It will shape how they approach every new task. Rather, children need to hear growth mindset and mindfulness statements. It’s not, “I can’t, I am too tired.” Rather, it’s “I am tired, so this might be a little hard, but I can still do great things even when I am tired.” It takes a lot of self-work to do that, and I still catch myself at times, but this plays such a role into how a child views themselves and initiates any new task.
What is your favorite spot in Newark?
Anne Marie: I would probably say the trails along White Clay Creek Preserve. I love a nature escape, and I go there to hike and practice my hula hoop choreography all the time.
You throw a dinner party and can invite anyone – famous or not, living or not. Who would you like to see around that dinner table?
Anne Marie: I will definitely be inviting my dad who passed away two years ago, he was my number one fan. He always said I was born with a natural gift and passion to help children with differences. I would love to show him all I have built and the many I’ve helped. As well as immediate family – my mother, my sister and my boyfriend. I would also like to invite the people who have helped me most through podcasts and books. One would be Shelby Sacco, who hosts a podcast called “Sad to Savage,” and Jay Shetty, a British podcaster, author and life coach. They have both helped me do a lot of internal work to maintain self-positivity and give me a lot of strategies to implement in my ADHD coaching.
I would need to have Laura Flick at the table as well, the creator of youarelovedtemplates. She is a neurodiverse adult that has become famous for making spreadsheets to support adults with neurodiversity. Her tools are amazing, we have worked together to simplify her templates to meet the needs of middle/highschool students that need support with executive function. Lastly, I would also invite Robin Fabiano, Abby Hanscom and Angela Smagula, who host the podcast “A Special Education Teacher, an Administrator and a Lawyer Walk Into a Bar.” I have learned a lot from them, and their minds all inspire me.
What item(s) can always be found in your refrigerator?
Anne Marie: You can always find some version of oat milk in there, as well as energy drinks.
To learn more about Anne Marie Wilkinson and Applied Advocacy, visit or e-mail www.appliedadvocacy.org, or call (302) 455-7378.
- Richard L. Gaw