No matter what other people tell you, YOU are the number one advocate for your child. As a special needs parent, this means even more. We know our children and want to see them be successful. As a teacher, I knew I did not want to be labeled as THAT parent.
Early on, I tried to establish with school that I was a part of the team for my son. Together we would work as a group to maximize his academic, social, and emotional experience. I would be kidding if I said this was easy. There were many grueling years where it did not go smoothly. As an educator, I knew how to push more when it was needed. All parents need to do this, but I know just how intimidating it can be on the other side of the table.
One of the first items I requested as part of my son’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) was to have a team meeting. At least once a quarter, I want to make sure we are on the same page. Our first meeting is typically just after the school year begins. This is when I am able to tell them about NHL. I can tell them who he is and how far he has come. It is my chance to remind each person around the table that just because something may not have worked in the past, he’s matured and maybe it will work in their classroom.
It is also when I give a little history for the newbies at the table. I explain the long process it took us for a diagnosis and why it’s hard not to be in defense mode. Parents of children with special needs are often forced into defense mode and it’s hard to break this habit. Another item I mention is that if I do not hear from them I assume no news is good news. I am not a fan of surprises on progress reports or report cards. Open lines of communication are crucial and I let everyone know how to email, call, or text me. I also remind everyone that it’s nice to hear ways that my son does well, not simply concerns. On the flip side, I email kudos to the team to let them know that I appreciate their hard work.
The team meetings allow for free flowing dialogue between everyone that works with my son. Rather than only talk at the annual review for the IEP, it allows us to get ready for that meeting ahead of time. When we go to that meeting, the entire team is ready to explain what we will need for the following year.
If you have a child with an IEP and do not have the team meeting including your family, I highly recommend having it included. If you have any questions or would like to share experiences you have had with special needs advocacy, please use the comments or reach out to me privately.