My take on advocating for a learning-disabled child is to pack a lot of patience and go in having the best interest of your child in mind no matter what.
As a mother of two, one with a learning disability, I have learned the importance and commitment needed from everyone to ensure he has access to the support he needs and to the education he’s entitled to under the law.
When my son was diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder (APD), I felt lost and overwhelmed. I desperately needed to understand what APD was. What it meant to be a child with it, and what I needed to do to best advocate for him.
I dove in and researched every piece of information I could find to best help educate myself and those who would come in daily contact with him. I needed to understand how my son was unique from other children with the same type of learning disability. How the issue, in his case, had nothing to do with his hearing but lies within the rate in which he processes and interprets the sound of spoken language.
I needed to make sure everyone involved in his education fully understood the diagnosis and his needs. I needed them to know that when he needs the steps to a math problem repeated, it’s not because he’s not paying attention. Or if he doesn’t get what a story’s about, it isn’t because he wasn’t focusing or was ignoring his teacher.
Needing extra time on a test doesn’t mean he’s wasting it. My goal was to ensure the teachers and administrators at his school became knowledgeable about his learning disability. And only then would it become easier for me to be an active participant in his education. To be able to provide his school with information on best practices that would work for him based on his learning style was the only way I could make certain he’s given the same opportunities as his non-learning-disabled peers to succeed.
Throughout this journey, I’ve learned the best way to be my son’s best advocate is to be efficient in my approach. To stay informed and to always keep these five key elements in mind when advocating for him.
- Communicate with your child. Have a conversation about their learning disability and teach them to have a strong sense of themselves. I tell my son not to let the difference in how he retains information affect his ability to do great things.
- Research as much as you can. Research and learn your state’s laws as it helps parents understand what their legal rights and what to expect when advocating for your child.
- Have open communication, be a presence in the school and set the tone. I can’t stress how important it is to be an active participate in a child’s education. Setting up meetings with teachers and key staff members and working together as a team is the best way to have your voice and that of your child heard.
- Be proactive, be willing to learn, and be understanding. Ask questions. Knowing what you can do to help your child is the first step of the journey. Also, understand it’s not about you. As parents, we’re hyper-focused on our child’s well being but need to know a school is accountable for the success and needs of all children; not just your own. Be understanding when things don’t happen when you want them to.
- Be organized and detail-oriented. I’ve learned to become extremely organized when handling all paperwork about my son’s diagnosis, IEP, and other documents. Get yourself a large binder, use dividers to separate by year, or use applications like OneNote or Dropbox to keep documents safe and accessible at all times.
My biggest takeaway to date and the best advice I can provide to any parent with a child with a learning disability is a simple one: Work in close collaboration with your child’s school and respect what they bring to the table.
Understand, recognize and appreciate the training and experience they have as everyone involved only wants the best for the child.