How Do You Advocate for Your Special Needs Child at School?

Does your child struggle with special needs but the school just won’t take notice? Do you find yourself continually trying to explain to teachers, or the community, that your child needs extra resources? If your call for help is falling on deaf ears, you need to amp up your advocacy.

Understand that being an advocate means taking concrete steps to make a change – and that’s no easy task.

Over the past decade, extra support for children with special needs has been getting more attention. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not more work to be done. Here are some tips for advocating for your special needs child, as well as for those in your community.

Educate Yourself

If your child has been diagnosed with a special need, you really need to understand the details of his condition – and a pamphlet from the doctor’s office isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to need to do a bit of research on your own. Get on the computer and learn all you can about your child’s situation. Speak with specialists in the field and learn about the resources that can help. Find local support groups – or start one of your own. By talking with parents who are dealing with similar issues, not only will you better understand the problem and its solutions, you will have a stronger voice as a group.

Understand the changes that you can make in your own home – as well as possible suggestions to give to your child’s caretakers or teachers to help them work with your child.

Also, learn about the various tools and resources available to you. Whether your child requires speech therapy, motor skill development, or is challenged with social or learning concerns, there are a variety of resources available to you through the public school system.

These programs range from Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to 504 plans and are designed to help children with a variety of issues. So educate yourself about the options your school offers and see which one(s) best fits your child’s needs.

Pay Attention

Part of living life without special needs is that you have the privilege of living in a world that was meant to accommodate you. It takes deliberate effort to look past that and to question whether or not something is inclusive.

As you move through your everyday life with your children, look around you and see if there are spaces for improvement. Where are resources lacking? How might certain school formats and activities exclude your child, or work against her needs? What does your child need in addition to the standard offerings the school provides?

Simply being aware of your child’s daily environment will go a long way to making you a better advocate. Take note of aspects of the learning environment that are working against your child, and build your case.

If You See Something, Say Something

Being an advocate means speaking up. If you see a problem, whether it be lack of wheelchair ramps or the casual use of inappropriate words being tossed around the playground, it’s up to you to speak out against it. You cannot assume that everyone else will and if they do, your voice will help add to the push for change. Don’t be afraid to make a fuss in the name of improving the life for your child or the children in your community.

Build your Case and Get Heard

Once you have gathered your facts and you know your options, schedule a time to meet with the school principal. He or she will be able to inform you of the next steps and to set up an evaluation, if necessary.

Be aware that principals have a lot on their plates and that your priority may not be theirs. Give them the time to focus on your concerns but if you’re not getting the response you need, don’t be shy about following up. You are advocating for your child, after all, and no one knows your kiddo’s situation better than you. Be polite but be insistent, if necessary. And be prepared to gather your support group of doctors, specialists, and so forth if the situation requires it.

If you’re still not getting heard, find out what the next course of action is in your school system and be ready to fight for your cause.

Speak with a Common Voice

For just about every special need, there already exists a community for support. Sometimes there are multiple communities, as in the case of autism for example, there are tons of groups that parents and friends can join for greater awareness.

Seek out these communities. Often they have targeted steps to help enact change which include resources as well as contact information for politicians.

No man is an island, and you will exhaust yourself trying to push against the status quo on your own. Instead, look for like-minded people to support your cause.

Practice Intersectionality in your Advocacy

This is a social justice term that means there are lines between certain justice issues and that by supporting one, you may be overlooking the needs of another group that’s also affected.

In your own advocacy, you would want to ensure that you are being as intersectional as possible and taking care to suggest changes and policies that will help many people across many cultures and ability lines. You don’t want to create a situation where only one subgroup with a special need is receiving the help they need, while leaving others out in the cold.

Being a strong advocate is really largely a matter of putting yourself out there and putting in the work. In order to be a good advocate for your own child and others, you can’t be afraid to speak up or seek out information that will help your cause. There are others out there fighting the same battle, find them and work together for a better tomorrow.

Are you (or will you be) and advocate for your special needs child? What’s your action plan?

Tags : school   special needs   

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