Your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability and now you need to learn to decode the world of special needs and special education services. You then need to become the voice of your child. You need to become your child's advocate so that your child gets all the support they need to thrive. Being a good advocate for your child is the best way to ensure that your child receives all the services they need to lead a meaningful life.
Advocating for your child with special needs can be hard work. These 16 things might be a great help when you are doing so.
1. Early and Correct Diagnosis.
Making sure your child is diagnosed correctly and responsibly is crucial. Children with special needs don't have the privileges that many of us take for granted. The earlier these children are diagnosed, the better chance at a normal life as they grow up. It’s important to advocate for your child and to make sure they get the help they need to develop and become more independent. They can’t do this if they’re not in the right place and if they’re not given the adequate support. This ensures that parents or guardians have time to prepare themselves for the future.
2. Work to get Solutions and Solve Problems.
One of the ways to advocate for our children is by having honest conversations with the people who impact their lives. For a lot of kids with developmental disabilities, one of the most important conversations is with their teacher or childcare provider. Whenever a problem arises with your child\'s teacher or childcare provider, work together to find a solution. Being the “problem-solver” is better for everyone involved.. And there’ll be times when they make a decision that you disagree with. But before you go into gung-ho mode, make sure you’ve tried solving the problem first. Working together to solve problems rather than becoming a problem is a win-win for everyone.
3. Become Friendly With Teachers and Other Professionals.
Advocating for your child is all about knowing your child and their needs and being proactive. It's important to stay connected to the teachers and professionals in your child's life. You should really get to know your child care provider or child's teacher, and become friends with other parents at the school. Being friendly with them will help open their lines of communication to you and they will feel like you’re part of their community. They’ll feel more comfortable talking to you about your child and the quality of care your child is receiving if you have a good relationship with them.
4. Ask Questions and Listen to Answers.
One of the best ways to advocate for your child is to ask lots of questions and to really listen to what's being said. Be open to new ideas and strategies. Don't just take what other people say at face value. Always look for ways to better advocate for your child. What you would also need is a toolkit, which is a set of suggestions and resources that you can draw from and use as needed. Remember there's no one-size-fits-all way of navigating the special needs world. One child may require while the other one does not, and what works for one family may not work for another.
5. Learn and Research everything about Special Education Law and your Child's Special Needs.
Research, Research, Research. Special Education Law has changed a lot in recent years. It's important to get to know everything about SPED law so you can be an advocate for your kid. Special Education law is something that has to be constantly researched and improved, and we need to stay up to date about all the latest developments. It's important to know what to expect at your child's school and how to challenge any discrepancies in your Child's Special Needs education. This includes learning and researching all you can about your child's unique needs - not just understanding what they're struggling with but their opportunities and abilities as well.
Look at your child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) to see what accommodations they are eligible for. You can then decide which accommodations to push for. There are also new laws in place to help IDEA students, children with autism, and students with dyslexia. Please remember your child deserves the same opportunities as any other child.
6. Keep Written Records.
Keeping written records is a great way for you to keep track of all the things you need and stay organized. It’s also a great way to keep yourself accountable. Though every situation is different, when your child has special needs, you can use written records to advocate for them. You can record their strengths, weaknesses, and the things that they do well or don’t do well in school. Plus it can be difficult to remember everything, so it’s wise to keep a diary of your children's needs and accomplishments for a reference.
7. Know Your Limitations.
You need to know what you’re strong in and what you’re not so strong in. Be honest with yourself and others about what you’re confident you can do and what you might need their help with. It’s important to be honest with others when it comes to your limitations and to let them know if they can help you. Sometimes getting support from other people or partnering with other parents who have a child with a disability, who can help you advocate for your child might be a great idea.
8. Get Second and Third Opinions.
Professionals that provide services for children with special needs are usually doing their best to help them and provide them with the best care and attention possible. In cases where there is a conflict of interest, they work to guide their decisions and to define the services that are best for that child. In spite of all that don’t be afraid to ask for a second and a third opinion. Make sure to get the best services for your child.
9. Don’t Bother What Others Are Thinking of You.
One piece of advice you should follow is not to worry about what others think of you. We worry about so many things, and often times we think about what people are thinking without even realizing it. But don’t be concerned with them, advocate for your child. We worry about what people will think of us, what people will think of our children, and what people will think of our child’s condition. There are so many things to think about, but it’s really important not to be concerned about what other people are thinking about you.
10. Be Involved.
When you have a child with special needs it's important to get involved, not only in your child’s education, but in the resources that are available for your child. You might not be the first person to advocate for your child’s needs, but you can’t let that stop you from being seen in the circles your child is being serviced and attending school meetings and events with school administrators. Have a presence in all the circles where your child’s needs are met, attend meetings, school events and develop a good relationship with your child's teachers.
11. Build a Support Circle.
Specially securing the benefits that are available for your child can take up a lot of your time, and this is often especially stressful when you also have other children who need your attention. It can be a lot to juggle. When it comes to time management, partnerships can be a good solution. It's important to build relationships with people who can support you and raise your child alongside you. Another way parents can have the support of friends and family is by asking them to accompany them to meetings and appointments as a back up.
12. Focus on Positives.
School meetings and reports may tend to on all the things your child really struggles with, or cannot do and this may not be a very productive use of your time. Instead of focusing on what your child cannot do, you need to focus on your child's strengths. For every one area where your child struggles, you will find five areas where they excel. We might not be able to make their weaknesses disappear, but we can focus on the positives which will make a huge difference.
13. Trust Your Gut.
You know your child better than anyone else. You know your child’s personality and their quirks. The responsibility and decision-making process for defending your child’s needs is always your task since you are the best advocate for your child. Use your intuition and instincts to guide you and if something feels off, trust your gut.
14. Be Reasonable.
The school system has limited resources and, sometimes, they just don’t work. There are waiting lists, programs that are unavailable, or there are no spots at all when you find out that your child has special needs that require a specific program or category. It may seem disappointing, but it’s important to be reasonable and not to expect the impossible and be realistic about what’s possible.
15. Help your Child Learn to Self-Advocate.
It's so important that we teach our kids to advocate for themselves as early as possible. This can be as simple as teaching them to speak up to their teacher if they’re struggling or feeling hurt. Teach your child to communicate that they need help because they learn differently, and they need to know how to advocate for themselves. Teach them to verbalize how they learn best, what they need to do when confronted with social pressure, and how to advocate for themselves as early as possible, will make their life easier.
16. Think of the Future.
It’s easy to be so focused on the present that you forget to give thought to the future. When you advocate for your child, you have to think long-term. Advocating for your child is about making sure they find a way to exist in the world. You need to plan for the future which begins with education. There are a lot of things to consider, when it comes to your child's education.
Will your child be able to be educated in a mainstream classroom? Do they have any physical or mental disabilities that would prevent them from being mainstreamed successfully? Think of long-term goals for your child starting with a vision for your child's future and the services and support your child will need to meet these goals.
Self Care - Self Care - Self Care
Last but not the least self-care. This journey of advocating can become very tiring and arduous. Autism parents need all the help they can get when it comes to self-care. You know it should be a priority, but with your job, school drop-offs, visits to therapists, IEP meetings, cooking and other responsibilities, the family's needs always seem to come before your own much-needed personal time. Self-care has huge payoffs.
You end up becoming a better parent and a better advocate for your child.
What to do next?
Check out our article on Parent's Guide to the IEP Process: Understanding Your Role