Most problems have relatively easy solutions. But if you feel that there may be an underlying issue that is holding your child back, make sure to have it investigated. Your child may not necessarily have a disability or a condition, but we all have limitations. My son, for example, has fine motor limitations that make printing and writing laborious for him. It takes him extra time to complete assignments and exams.
A two-pronged litmus test helps keep you focused.
Once you understand what challenges your child is facing, the key to success in advocacy is to start with a clear vision. Focus on your child’s strengths. Come up with ideas to enhance your child’s strengths. Take those back to the teacher.
But how do you know if what you are asking for is reasonable? A reality check is a necessary step. If you are asking for an accommodation or special treatment for your child, it should pass one of two tests. It should either level the playing field or be considered reasonable for another child to have as well.
Leveling the playing field means giving each child a fair chance to prove himself. My typically-developing child, Devin, was offered the opportunity in ninth grade to conduct some of his English test on the computer because his limited writing ability put him at a disadvantage relative to other students. Using the computer leveled the playing field for him. Start by explaining your child’s challenges and then ask the teacher what can be done if you feel your child is at a disadvantage. Teachers are professionals, and they may have a solution that you haven’t thought of.
The second test is to see if your idea would be reasonable for another child. For example: When my daughter Kasenya started junior high, the school wanted to send her home an hour early each day to avoid the inevitable traffic jam and long waiting times caused when everyone leaves the school at the same time. We vehemently disagreed with this. So we asked ourselves: Would it be reasonable to send our son home an hour early? We decided that it would not be. We did, however, agree that in order to beat the rush, Kasenya could end her day 15 minutes earlier. Good advocacy, after all, also includes “C” for compromise.
How to keep the “B” out of advocacy.
If you are being true to your child’s needs, assessing his teachers and each situation as it comes in a fair manner, and most importantly, if what you are asking for in the way of accommodations meets both criteria of our litmus test, then chances are you are not out of line.
Remember to do your best to hold emotions in check when you are advocating—especially anger and frustration, which may only hide the really good intentions behind your requests on behalf of your child. And remind yourself, and your child when appropriate, that those on his caregiving team—teachers, therapists, doctors—do have his best interest at heart, but that they might need to be clued in to his specific needs in order to help make his treatment and education best suited for him.
Laverne M. Bissky is a mom of two children. Her daughter Kasenya has cerebral palsy and type 1 diabetes. Bissky’s family has a passion for travel, and she documents their journeys—across the globe and through the landscape of special needs—at noordinaryjourney.com.