Having a child with special needs or special ed requirements can be disappointing, overwhelming, and unexpected. But, as you will discover (or already have discovered), your child needs you. Your child needs you to advocate for them with many people who do not have your interests or your child’s interest in mind. Your child needs you to have their best interest in mind at all times. Your child needs you. Period.
1. Get Over Yourself
I don’t mean to be or sound harsh with this advice of “get over yourself” because you will need to do just that to advocate for your child and his/her needs. I’m not sure how my section title ended up in this giant font size, but I decided to leave it that way because this is the big one; this is the difficult one. This one you have to do before you can do anything else. Get. Over. Yourself. It may take months or years of denial before you accept the role of your child’s advocate, but you will need to accept your advocacy role to do what is best for your child. If you find yourself asking “why me?” or “why my child?” types of questions, you fit squarely in this category. You may need to do some soul searching and acceptance of the situation before moving on. Once you have accepted that your role is being an advocate for your child’s needs and education, you can focus on educating yourself and making decisions about what is best for your child.
2. Educate Yourself
My husband and I spent an enormous amount of time educating ourselves about special ed and the special ed process, but there are so many things that we didn’t know, still don’t know, and probably, don’t want to know. But, in order to help our children, we needed to educate ourselves about the needs of our children and the special ed process within the school district. Thankfully, with the internet it is much easier to find information, people, resources and medical treatment or doctors. We attended seminars and conferences, asked many questions of our doctors, did a ton of reading, but it is still a learning process. Three resources that are extremely helpful in getting started in your own education are:
- Top 10 Mistakes Parents Make in IEP Meetings
- You Gotta Know the Rules If You’re Gonna Play the Game
- Ten Related Services For an IEP You May Not Know About
A word of explanation about these recommendations — One of the most helpful items I ran across was a list of the top 10 mistakes people make with IEP meetings. We certainly have made our share of those! Another article that is very helpful is one that my friend Grace Tiscareno-Sato wrote on knowing the rules of the game. These are just two examples of the type of information that is out there. Take the time to find this type of information and educate yourself – it will definitely be time (and money, in some cases) well spent!
3. Decide What is Best for You and Your Child
You are your child’s own best advocate. You know your child the best, you spend the most time with them – use all of that knowledge, reflect on it, and then decide what is best for you and your child. This acknowledgement even ended up on one mom’s top 10 list of things she learned from having a special needs child. I had lunch with a friend who I wanted to introduce to a special ed advocate, and after the lunch she said “You are right. I am the person who knows my son the best. I have to stop letting others decide for me.” You decide what services are appropriate for your child – there are many to choose from and you may not even know about them. Don’t let school districts, special ed directors, doctors, or anyone else decide for you. Use what they have to say as one piece of information you consider in making decisions, but don’t let them tell you what to do or decide for you.
No parent sets out to become a special ed advocate when their child is born, but that’s what happens when you find out your child has special needs or requires special ed services. Accept it, educate yourself, and do the best you can for your child.
If you have other advice to share about special ed advocacy or your experiences with it, please leave a comment.