How to Advocate for Your Child with Special Needs

Nobody ever said raising children was easy but when you have a child with special needs, it can be even harder. When it comes to your child’s education, it’s a given that you want the absolute best for them. If you’re a parent of a child with special needs you probably know that navigating their schooling and accommodations can require a steep learning curve for you and the whole family. You’ll potentially be meeting with educators, medical professionals, and the school board, which can be intimidating if you’re still learning how best to support your child. Read on to learn how to advocate for your child’s needs and stand up for them if they’re being treated unfairly.

Don’t confuse being an advocate with a personal injury lawyer in Orlando or a divorce lawyer in Orlando. Being an advocate means familiarizing yourself with special education laws and learning how to defend your child’s rights if they’re being ignored. When your child is struggling, the whole family struggles, so it’s necessary that you learn how to help create a positive learning environment for them.

It Takes a Village

While it’s vitally important to receive professional opinions about your child’s physical, mental, and emotional health and needs, remember that you know your child best. You have the full picture of your child including their little quirks and idiosyncrasies. You understand the multiple dynamics that may be influencing them, such as family relationships, diet, sleep habits, and routines. Take the professional diagnoses seriously, but don’t be afraid to ask questions about things that don’t seem to align with your perception of your child’s behavior. If you receive feedback about your child that seems uncharacteristic or ill-fitting, you can consider getting a second opinion to reassure yourself that you’re getting an opinion you trust.

Value your own intuitions and gut-reactions, but know that sometimes your emotions can get the best of you when it comes to matters about your child. While it’s normal to get emotionally involved, make sure you value the importance of objective, expert opinions. Doctors, special education experts, education lawyers, and specialists, can all help you gain a balanced perspective about your child’s needs.

Assume that Educators Want to Help

The last thing you or your child needs is a combative relationship with the school. The best way to keep things calm and courteous is to assume that everybody has your child’s best interests in mind. That doesn’t mean there won’t be miscommunications or potential shortcomings, but try to be patient and continue to communicate your child’s needs clearly. Educators get into the profession because they care about helping kids so remind yourself that you’ll have the best results if you work together as a team.

Try to refrain from playing the blame game. If you feel like your child isn’t getting the correct accommodations or making progress as quickly as you would like, take the time to ask questions, write down your concerns, discuss matters calmly, while advocating strongly for your child.

Be a Voice for your Child

Depending on the age, verbal dexterity, and physical abilities of your child, you may need to communicate their needs for them. You know your child best, so it’s up to you to articulately share their needs to the school and the school board. A lot of your advocacy work will revolve around educating others. You’ll likely need to consistently educate people about your child, their needs, and their diagnosis. Make sure you continue to educate yourself about new research, innovative therapies, and communicate with other parents to get support and information. The best advocacy stems from an educated perspective.

Hire an Attorney for Help

When it comes to educating yourself, make sure you learn about special education law and the legislation set in place to protect children with special needs. After all, you’ll need to research what your child’s rights are before you can defend them. But sometimes things can get especially complicated or require a deeper level of understanding about special education law. Forget about hiring a personal injury lawyer from Orlando or a divorce lawyer from Orlando, you’ll need the expertise of a special education attorney.

An attorney can fill in any gaps in your knowledge by answering questions, guide you through the process of an Individual Education Plan (IEP), and help you advocate for your child’s accommodations. If a school board is uncooperative, if the school becomes litigious, or communication has broken down, an attorney might be the logical next step to take. Although unlikely, an attorney can litigate for your child’s case if the circumstances require it.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Whether you advocate for your child or you hire someone else to do it, aim to keep the lines of communication open between all relevant parties. Feel free to raise justifiable concerns and ask a lot of questions. Be open to feedback from your child’s support team and make sure you respond to their communication promptly. Act like a team member and remember that you’re working as a team to help your child. Stay as open-minded as possible and listen to expertise coming from educators. They know things that you don’t; and vice versa.

Know that Advocating is Hard Work

You may have a full-time job, other children, aging parents, etc. You’ve got a lot on your plate, so keep in mind how taxing being an advocate for your child can be. Reading up on education law, signing papers, and attending meetings can be both time-consuming and emotionally draining, so be kind to yourself and acknowledge the challenges.

It sounds a little counterintuitive but taking breaks and taking time out for self-care will actually make you more productive in the long run. You can’t take care of others if you’re not tending to yourself so remind yourself daily. It’s advisable to budget for things that can help you and your family navigate the mental and emotional challenges that may arise. Seek counselling if you find that your advocacy work is taking a toll on your mental health and hire a special education attorney or professional advocate if you think you need the extra support.

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