When you are the parent of a child with special needs, there are many things to learn about- the diagnosis, medical equipment (if needed) or adaptive equipment, diets, etc. One of the best things you can learn is how to become an advocate for your child. I can’t stress the importance of this enough.
It can be super scary to speak up sometimes, but your child needs you to say what they sometimes can not- there are many factors that can keep a child from speaking up from their needs- speech and/or language delays, slow processing speed, anxiety, and so on. Being an advocate for your child can make you a stronger parent.
Julian’s Path to Awesomeness
Julian had a 504 plan almost immediately after starting kindergarten. His diagnosis came a couple of months later- severe ADHD, combined and autism.
It was a LOT. There is a post dedicated to finding out about the diagnosis, Looking at the Bright Side
The 504 plan worked- it took until 4th grade to get him an IEP. Why? Somehow, Julian’s issues didn’t really affect his work, but it did socially.
The IEP finally got put into place when he started 5th grade. His 4th-grade teacher (who has since become a friend and neighbor) submitted a ton of data to help the process.
Julian is in 8th grade and working on the transition to high school. According to Kentucky guidelines, he can attend meetings when he’s 14, which will be in July, or in 8th grade. My heart broke a little during the transition part of the meeting.
He makes good grades but still struggles with anxiety- you couldn’t pay him to present in front of a class. At the meeting earlier this year, I asked for accommodations for this. I don’t want that to affect his grades.
Ten Tips for Helping
My number one tip for advocating?
I can’t say this enough but know your kid. Knowing what Julian does and doesn’t need has helped so much.
The other tips are:
2. Keep and organize paperwork. I have a binder full of Julian’s paperwork- report cards, the 504 plans, IEPs, everything he’s ever gotten from school. It helps when asking for a new plan if you’re forgetful (like me) or just so you can stay up to date.
3. Create relationships with teachers and staff.
My kids went to a great elementary school. The counselors were super helpful, and almost all of his teachers were great with him. My personal favorite was the teacher mentioned earlier. We love Allison. She’s a wonderful teacher and as an added bonus, she was a special education teacher for some time.
4. Ask ALL the questions.
If you don’t know what something means, ask. That’s what the staff is there for. When you’re starting out, there’s plenty of questions to ask, even the ones you think maybe stupid.
5. Know your child’s rights.
Each state has a different way of doing things in this area. Research the IDEA. The reading can get a bit hard but it’s well worth it.
6. Talk to your child. This is the best way to know if the IEP accommodations are actually being used- for example, Julian gets extra time on testing and this is super important during state testing. Teachers have to go by a student’s IEP/504 Plan.
Your child can learn to self-advocate as they advance through school.
7. Communicate with teachers. Try to stay as pleasant as possible. If things don’t go well, speak to an assistant principal. Remember that the main goal is to get the best plan possible for your child.
8. Remember that you are not alone. Millions of other parents are going down the same road.
9. Research, research, and research.
There’s new information coming out all the time about learning disabilities, assorted medical issues and so on. Knowing the newest information can help you feel more confident when advocating for your child.
10. Plan for the future. I try to plan for one school year at a time, but once Julian hit middle school, it hit me that he will be in high school then an adult soon.
I started looking at high school programs last year and we picked a program to apply for. The next meeting to finish his transition plan is later this year.
Getting kids through school is a challenge in itself. Why make it harder?
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