Advocacy Tips

Tips On How To Become The Best Advocate For Your Special Needs Child!

* Become a leader, coach or volunteer in your child's activities and interests. This way you can monitor how your child is being included into his surroundings and make sure others are receptive.

* Wherever your child's talent lies, nurture and celebrate it! For instance, both of my son's are extremely talented in art so I make sure I take advantage of every opportunity to enter their drawings at state fairs and PTA/school sponsored contests. They have earned numerous awards and ribbons for their efforts and have even placed at the state level. This has definitely boosted their self-esteem.

* Become a member of your child's school PTA so that you can contribute to making your child's educational experience a success. Sign up to be his or her room parent.

* Know what is going on in your child's classroom every day. Instead of waiting in your car to pick your child up from school, take the time to physically walk to the classroom to meet your child and be available for the teacher to share any concerns. If you work full-time and do not have this option, make a phone call or connect with the teacher by email.

* Make sure you develop relations with everyone involved in your child's education process. For example, get to know both the Superintendent and the School Board Members of your school district, interview the Director of the Special Education Department to find out what programs are available for your child's specific needs; and most importantly, develop a strong working relationship with every member of your I.E.P. (Individual Education Plan) team which include your child's Mainstream Teacher, Resource Teacher, Speech Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, School Psychologist, School Counselor, School Principal and the District Special Education Representative. Remember, you are the parent and you know your child better than anyone else does, so take the responsibility to be the LEADER at your child's I.E.P. meetings!

* I would encourage you to visit every school in your district that houses special needs programs and ask for a tour of each site. Do this before you meet with your child's I.E.P. team to discuss placement of your child. This is so worth the leg work! I did this when researching sites for both of my sons and am so grateful I took the time. I was then able to articulate what I thought was the most appropriate setting for my boys based on my own observations.

* Think outside of the box if the school district is not able to provide the services you believe your child needs at school. For instance, my son's school district would not provide an individual Para-educator for my son who really needed the extra one on one help. So as a result, the last two years I have gone into my son's classroom every afternoon acting as his Para-educator myself. Not only did this prove to be a successful strategy, but it also allowed me the opportunity to develop close bonds with his teachers and classmates which was key in developing strong friendships for my son.

* If you decide to home school your child be sure and utilize as many resources in your child's home school district for extra support. For example, as a home schooler your child can still receive resource instruction and any other support listed in your child's I.E.P.. Keeping an updated and current I.E.P. even if you are home schooling is vital in making a much smoother transition if ever you decide to enroll your child back into a full day program.

* Take training classes on the in's out out's of your child's I.E.P.. Washington P.A.V.E. (Partnerships for Action, Voices for Empowerment) provides free classes and training workshops educating parents in this area. Be proactive and know what your child's I.E.P. says, what it means and if it is being properly followed.
* Do your research when it comes to choosing Doctors, Therapists, Counselors, and Naturopaths. It is so important to use your instincts here.... especially when it comes to what specific medications, therapies, advice and supplements are being prescribed to your child. You need to closely monitor how your child reacts in each of these areas.

* Know the benefits and providers you are entitled to through your insurance company so you can give your child the best care possible. If by chance your insurance company's list of providers does not include a specialist qualified in treating your child specific diagnosis, challenge the insurance company to give you a waiver of coverage for an out-of-network provider who does. This takes persistence and patience, but it worked for me recently when seeking a counselor specialized in Tourettes Syndrome for my son. Do not settle for anything less than the best care for your child!

* Join a Support Group! I have had my greatest success in receiving some very helpful advice and referrals for both of my children through this route. Not to mention all of the new friendships I have made!

* Nothing is as soothing and comforting as physical touch and words of encouragement. Give your child tons of hugs, kisses and "I love you's" throughout the day.

* Have lots of play dates! Parents, as exhausting as this sounds, the payoff is worth it! Not only do you boost your own child's self esteem while developing a strong social network for your child, but you have the opportunity to make an impact on another child's life as well. This is a great way to monitor who your child's friends are. As a result, his/her friends will have much more respect for you as an adult - I guarantee it!

* Make sure you are addressing the health of your whole child. You need to balance and pay attention to the care of every aspect of his or her development whether it be physical, emotional, mental, social and most importantly spiritual which brings me to my next tip!

* Go to church as family! The famous saying "A family that prays together, stays together!" is definitely worth repeating. Your child needs reassurance that the whole family is seeking to nurture the faith that God loves us, He has a plan for us and that there is always hope in the toughest of times.

* Keep your marriage strong for your children by keeping the lines of communication open and work as a team. Date nights are a great way to have a time of renewal for a husband and wife. Your children need to know you are committed to one another as it provides a safe and loving environment in the home.

* Take the time to have fun as a family and remember to play hard too!

* Parents! Remember (especially us Moms!) to take time out for yourselves to recharge your batteries so you can continue to be a strong advocate for your child. Work out, eat well and get good sleep - not always easy to make happen I realize, but try :)! Keep in touch with your friends, they are a vital support system. Live by example for your children. To help them achieve their dreams, remember to nurture your dreams as well.

* Finally, most important in being your child's advocate....DO NOT BURN BRIDGES! In other words, it's okay to be that "squeaky wheel" to be heard, but please be professional about it - you will gain so much more respect and accomplish much more in doing so. Remember, your child is dependent on you having healthy relations with those in his or her care - especially in the educational system. I have had great success in working as a team with both of my sons' I.E.P. teams because I treat them with same respect I would like given to me. I am assertive, yet tactful. Finally, I have worked very hard to develop a reputation in my community as someone who is sincere and dedicated to being the strongest advocate possible for my children. Remember this, and your journey of advocacy will much more enjoyable and productive!

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