Imagine. After months of waiting and anticipation the moment has finally arrived! Your beautiful baby enters the world and life is the fullest it has ever been! As the nurse gently places your newborn in your arms she slips a book into your hands. “This is your child’s manual,” she explains, “Be sure to read it as soon as possible. Oh, and pay close attention to the section regarding special needs.”
A crazy scenario, I know. But at times I wish that I had had that manual! Navigating the parenting role is tricky at the best of times, but, finding your way with a child that has special needs is even more demanding and difficult. This is a path that may not have been traveled by family and friends. Loneliness, disappointment, frustration and a sense of failure can make the journey miserable. The challenges can become overwhelming once your child reaches school age. It is at that time that you enter a whole world of professionals that will have your precious child for 6 hours out of the day! It is a world that is a culture unto itself with its own language and its own set of rules. You may feel like an outsider. You may feel that you need help. You may need someone to act as an interpreter in this new land.
You begin the investigation…look on the Internet and the Yellow pages…..can someone out there help me do the best for my child in school? Before you choose the person who will be your guide and advocate for your child, you must do some homework; for the sake of your child and for your own sanity. There are many people who call themselves advocates. But, it is up to you, the parent to make an informed decision as to whether the person is truly qualified to advocate for a student with special needs and whether this person is a “good fit” with you, your child and your goals. Take the time to do your research; the decision you make can literally affect your own and your child’s life in ways that you never dreamed possible. The person that you choose will impact your relationship with school personnel, your spouse, your child and the members of your family. The advocate will have a direct effect on your marriage, your personal relationships and your family. You are inviting someone to enter into your world. Be very careful to whom you give this precious gift.
What role can an advocate play?
o Assist parents in finding supports and resources that are available
o Model effective relationship building and problem solving skills
o Listen to all parties in a genuine and nonjudgmental manner;
o Clarify issues
o Suggest options and possible solutions
o Document meetings or help parents to understand documents and assessments
o Locate and provide information
o Speak on the parent/child’s behalf when they cannot speak for themselves
o Help the family with written correspondence, documentation or phone calls
o Attend meetings
o Follow up on decisions made and actions taken
The following are a few points to ponder before deciding who you will choose:
Advocates should have the qualifications to be able to speak with integrity and knowledge about exceptionalities in learning. A high level of qualification brings a level of respect to the table. Humans are far more likely to listen to someone who has “walked in their shoes” and has experience in education and special needs. It is probably safe to say, that very few people are willing to modify their own expertise and professional methods based on the ideas and opinions of someone who has little or no experience and credentials in the field. As an educator, sitting in meetings with someone who has no special education qualifications and have them point out your deficiencies is a waste of time and money. Any parent who has experienced being lectured on the lawyer dubai best methods of raising children by a person who has no children, may know how frustrating this can be. Teachers are more likely to be open to the opinions and suggestions of someone who is at least qualified to make such statements. It makes sense that if you want to cultivate the best education for your child, you would expect an advocate that had the special education credentials and experience that would enhance your role as parent. Maintaining professional development by attending conferences, keeping up to date on current policy documents and procedures are important qualifications to have. Special education is a constantly evolving science and an advocate must be up to date. A solid knowledge of local resources, services providers and community programs facilitates problem solving. It is equally important that the advocate you choose have the interpersonal skills necessary to work collaboratively with others to create solutions. As a parent, expect the person that you hire to be qualified to help you to work with the school.
Advocates should know your child.
People who are chosen to represent your child need to read assessments, report cards, interact and spend time with the child in order to really know who they are working for. Then the role of advocacy is authentic and not a matter of fighting for a cause or for an ego boost. When an advocate knows the parent and the child well, he or she can help to uncover the common ground between school and home. The advocate should be able to explain how your child’s disability may impact their learning and then work with you to help prioritize your child’s needs. A wise advocate is someone who will look for solutions and not blame. Advocates should see the child in the context of his classroom. A child’s program on paper can never tell the whole story. There is no way that a teacher can put into words all of the supports, plans, visuals, tools and strategies that are employed to make the child successful. The child’s world tells far more than any documentation could ever describe. It is important to note that entering a classroom is opening a “sacred trust.” Just as you would not let someone that you do not trust into your home, teachers must be wary to whom they open their classrooms. If someone is entering the room to “observe” and then report back to the parent all of the things that they think are being done incorrectly and to “build a case” against the school, the relationship has then been destroyed. Would you want someone coming into your home to “observe and critique” you as you carry out the daily functions of parenthood?