As a parent you are going to go through many different phases in your own development. You don’t just become an adult when you turn 18 years old, you change and you grow as you move through different phases in life. Parenting is one of the most challenging, rewarding and tiring phases you will ever go through, and it’s one that is for life. Parenting does not stop when they turn 18 themselves, and as a parent and an adult, you often are going to have to be the voice that your children need to be able to stand up for themselves.
If you have children with additional needs, or any autistic children are in your family, you may have to do more than most when it comes to advocacy. The child whose nonverbal needs parents voice behind them to be their strength to be their pillar of wisdom and to be their guide. They need this alot more than neurotypical children need it, and they also need it to know that they are loved, supported and safe. Unfortunately, the world in which we live means that there is a need for a special education lawyer, or tribunal, or fight. As a parent, you are going to come up against people who don’t believe your child is dealing with intellectual disabilities or autism. You’re going to come up against barriers because maybe your child isn’t “autistic enough” to need help, which is a horrible phrase but it’s what comes out of these conversations. Either way, parents often feel powerless, and yet we are the biggest power our children have. Whether it’s at schools, or it’s in medical settings, our voice and our opinion matters more than anything because we know our children best. So, here are some things you can follow to be a good advocate for your children.
- Communicate with your child. A good way to advocate for your children is to know them. This is much harder when your child is nonverbal but that doesn’t mean noncommunicative or non thinking. It’s a big misconception that just because a child cannot or will not speak doesn’t mean that they aren’t thinking or feeling. Children have their own ways of communicating, just as we know that newborn babies will scream and cry to be able to get what they need. You have to get to the root of what your child is doing, whether their communication is in their actions or in their writing or in their body language. Understanding nonverbal communication is very important here, so if your child can’t speak you need to be able to learn what their gestures mean. When you do this, you can find out whether they are happy or whether they are struggling and act accordingly.
- Understand that your child will behave differently with different people. As parents we are the safe space for our children. They may act differently at school, within the exterior of excellence and poise. It can be frustrating if you’re dealing with a child who is an Angel at school but who will tell your home apart like the Tasmanian devil! You need to be able to talk to your children’s teacher to understand how they are functioning at school, and if they are in a special needs school you need to be able to get good answers from those teachers. You cannot be looking over your child’s shoulder every minute of every day, so we trust teachers to do that for us. You should be able to feel comfortable asking teachers questions such as whether your child has any difficulties in school or following instructions. If you can’t ask those questions then you need to move your child’s class or find a teacher who can answer them.
- Maximize your time at parent teacher conferences. So many parents turn up to a parent teacher conference with no questions. You need to be able to hear everything that’s happening with your child’s academic performance and talk through any concerns you may be having. The teachers may not be concerned especially if your child is quiet and unassuming and sits in the side of the class. But a quiet child doesn’t indicate a child who understands. Ask your questions up front and ensure that the time you have with the parent teacher conference is used correctly.
- Get support the moment you think you need it. It’s so difficult to get support for children especially if their support is financial. You need to be able to speak to your child’s teacher to learn whether or not they feel your child needs additional support at school. Early intervention is critical for your child’s development, so don’t be afraid to ask for help as early as you feel that they need it. It can be a battle to get the help that you need, and you may need to provide eons of paperwork in proof that your child needs help. The word of a parent is often not enough in these cases, so speak to psychologist, speak to pediatricians, speak to occupational therapists, speech pathologists, behavioral consultants, and more.
- Request services in writing. If you suspect that you need special educational intervention for your child then you need to request this in writing. Children need to be evaluated to determine which services would be most appropriate for them and school districts will often offer school based evaluations free of charge. The only way this is going to happen though is if you advocate for your child and speak up on their behalf.
- Speak up. If you are unhappy with something, whether it’s the medical care for your child, or it’s the care that they are getting in a special educational setting, don’t be quiet about it. Speak up on social media, speak up in writing and speak up on the phone. If you are not going anywhere with your complaints, speak up to the press. Your child has to be the concern here, and if it takes media attention to be listened to, then that’s what it takes.
Thank you for reading!