Special needs advocacy can be quite challenging, especially if you are new to the special education system. You have to learn the special education terminology, special education laws and regulations, the ins and outs of IEP meetings, what your child’s disability actually means…and let’s not forget doing all of this while you are still trying to raise your special needs child. There is simply not enough time in the day to fit in all these activities and learning experiences. And this is why some parents simply give up, become overwhelmed and/or ask for help.
However, this situation is not hopeless. You CAN be successful at special needs advocacy and your child CAN be successful in their future. The important thing is to learn the ins and outs of special needs advocacy by learning what to do and what not to do. We can all learn some life lessons from experienced parents and advocates in the field.
Stop worrying about what others think.
I have spoken to several parents about advocating for their child and there are many instances when they are worried about what the ‘people’ at the school will think if they ask too many questions or if they request a service for their child. “What will my child’s teacher say when I ask for ___?” or “Will the IEP team think I’m not doing my job as a parent?” To be honest, none of these questions matter. There will always be individuals (and yes this may include some of your IEP team members) that disagree with your parenting style or maybe think you could do something better. But, it is important to not get caught up in the judgement of others. Always strive to be your best self, but do not be afraid of the opinion of others.
Enjoy the process.
Now this may sound easier said than done, but we as parents have to learn to slow down. Stop wishing away years of your child’s life. “I can’t wait until he is a teenager and he can be more independent.” Well that may or may not happen. Learn to accept that your child has their own timeframe of development and they will move at their own pace. When you focus on your child’s strengths in their own timetable, it takes the pressure off and you will be able to celebrate and be grateful for each milestone.
Accept your child.
Children are all different. EVERY child has strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect, so accept your child. Did you think that your son would be walking by now? Or you wonder why your daughter has so many sensory related issues? Or there may be other things that you have envisioned for your child and they have not come to pass. Try not to focus on what you thought they should be doing by now and instead focus on accepting where they are. As a society, we are planners. We plan from the time we find out we are expecting a child until they graduate from high school. But sometimes, things do not always go as planned and that is okay! Learn to role with punches and love your child unconditionally.
Remove YOU from the equation.
When a baby is born, they need assistance with every aspect of life. From eating to being changed to even holding their head up. But, as they get older, they require less and less assistance and become more independent. However, some parents still treat their older children like they are babies. If this is you, step back from the situation. You will only foster more independence if you let them be independent. The only way to make sure this happens is to let your child do it themselves. If your child is struggling with something, teach them how to do it and then let them do it independently. Even if it takes a longer period of time, they are still learning independence. In the long run as they continue with the task, they will become stronger and better at it.
Advocating for your child does not just include you being present for IEP meetings. It also is about learning to accept your child’s strengths and challenges so that you can have a better plan for their educational programming; enjoying the process so that you are not so overwhelmed that you cannot advocate for your child; and removing yourself from the equation so your child can be more successful in the future. It is important to note that you are your child’s best advocate. Even though you might experience some challenges along the way, remember these life lessons.
What challenges have you had in special needs advocacy?