There is a fine line between being a parent and being an advocate. At least that’s what I’ve learned in my parenting journey. When I met my boyfriend and his son three years ago, my teacher background immediately made my situation a little different. Not only was I stepping into a new role as a “bonus” mom to this little guy, but I was also going to be his biggest supporter, biggest fan, and biggest advocate.
And I’m sure every parent can agree—you go to battle for your children.
But what do you do when you have children with special needs? How do you become a special needs advocate and fight for your child when it feels like you’re fighting alone? When fighting for his/her rights seems synonymous with fighting people and institutions who should seemingly be on your side?
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to support your children. But here is what I’ve learned in advocating for my son. Hopefully, it will help to guide you in your journey towards special needs advocacy.
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How to become a Special Needs Advocate
1. You Have to Know What You’re Fighting for
Chances are if your child has special needs, you already know what he or she struggles with. For my son, dyslexia is his biggest learning challenge, so I know that when he is not given enough time to complete assignments, when he is not offered the option of having text read to him, and when he is expected to complete assignments without support that are far above his level – I have to step in.
The first step to being a good advocate (and parent!) is understanding what your child needs. This can begin with an assessment, or it can be as simple as figuring out what your child needs – on your side and the classroom side – to see if there are ways to tackle learning challenges.
If your child has an IEP, the components of that IEP must be followed. IF your child doesn’t have an IEP, then perhaps your first step is to meet with his/her teachers to discuss your concerns and potential need for one to be written.
Either way, you start with the struggles. This will help you know what you are fighting for, and more importantly the why behind your fight.
2. You Can’t Be Too Hard on Yourself (Or Anyone Else)
As parents, we are our own worst enemies sometimes. Regardless of whether your child’s needs have slipped under the radar or you simply haven’t know what steps to take—please don’t beat yourself up!
Parenting is an ever-shifting, ever-growing journey. Just because you haven’t done or said the “right” things doesn’t mean you’re failing your child.
On that note, it’s also important to keep in mind that most people are doing their best, even (and especially!) your child’s teachers/staff. Although it may seem, from time to time, that some of the people who are supposed to have your child’s best interests in mind may have failed him or her, remember that everyone has a lot on their plates.
Perhaps something that was missed or that didn’t go as planned was not done intentionally. Rather than playing the blame-game with yourself and others, recognize that what you have to do is fix the problem. And start.
3. You Have to Keep Lines of Communication and Trust Open
Communication is key, especially in advocacy. If you’re trying to advocate for your child’s needs and abilities in the classroom, then make sure you’re available and making it a priority to talk with his/her teachers.
You’ll also want to engage in open dialogues and ask questions about your child’s learning (even if it feels like too much). The more questions you ask, the better understanding you’ll have, and the more educated you’ll be in taking the next steps.
PS: There is no such thing as “too many” questions.
4. You Can’t Stop. Don’t Stop Learning about Special Needs.
Being an advocate for your child’s needs and abilities isn’t a one-time fight.
For many of us, this process is ongoing. Yes, from time to time it will be frustrating. And yes, from time to time it will be draining. But prioritizing your child and keeping him or her at the center of what you do will make it all worth it.
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The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not necessarily reflect the views of Blub Blub Inc. All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgement, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.