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How to Be an Advocate for Your Child Without Becoming Overly Pushy
Striking the perfect balance between being an advocate and being overly pushy and demanding can be a difficult task for parents of children with special needs. Here are some tips to make the job easier.
1. Be honest about your child’s abilities and needs. If you go to a team meeting and they demand that your disabled child be the star of the next dance, you may not get where you really want to go. In the same light, if they finally start using their words and are never asked to in class, it might be a good time to speak up.
2. Be polite. It sounds simple, but it can be extremely difficult when you feel like your child is getting the shaft. Sometimes a less direct statement (I feel… it seems…) is less obvious and helps you find the answers you’re looking for.
3. Communicate. Although you may feel that you are clearly articulating your needs for your child, it may not be interpreted that way by the other side. Logging in, tracking and chatting with others, except when you need something or have a problem, can really make a big difference.
4. Say you’re sorry. A heartfelt apology can go a long way in advocacy if you’ve crossed the line into being a jerk. The people who work with your child know that you love them and understand that you want the best. Letting them know you’re aware of your own intensity can really help smooth things over (donuts can help, too).
5. Be ready to compromise. Many professionals would give their child the sun, moon and stars if they could afford it. Unfortunately, many people work with incredibly tight budgets. Know your priorities and be willing to give up some less important things. Being willing to give a little to the cause shows that you are a team player and can help them work within their own limitations.
6. Stay focused. It can also be stated to keep an eye on the prize. It’s easy to get distracted by every little problem along the way. That doesn’t mean you should ignore other concerns, but if you want more physical therapy, hit this one. Don’t get caught up in so many goals that your real purpose gets lost in the mix.
7. Be helpful. Continue working with your child at home. Some people get so caught up in advocacy that they forget the day-to-day work that needs to happen. Showing that you are fully committed, walking the walk and talking the talk can really make an impact on others.
8. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes what we hear is not really what people say. Professionals do their best to formulate problems and concerns in the best and most accessible terminology possible. Sometimes they are not the words a parent wants to hear. This does not mean that the professional is trying to “get” your child. It could mean they don’t have all the information, they have a bigger plan that they’re not expressing well, or they’re just having a day where they can’t say things in a way that makes complete sense to you.
9. Ask questions. Sometimes putting your concern in the form of a question takes the edge off what you really want to say. Saying “I don’t think you have the right ideas about my child” can come across as aggressive, but “Can you tell me where this plan is going to go in the next five years” can help clarify other people’s opinions without them realizing it. as mean.
10. Say thank you. Nothing makes people want to continue working with you like a sincere thank you at the end of the day. A small note to thank someone for listening to your concerns, a word from someone who went the extra mile, or a letter to the supervisor can really mean a lot to the people working with your child. It doesn’t have to be huge. Even if you didn’t get everything you hoped for, letting people know you appreciate their efforts can earn you “points” for the next issue. This shows that you are a team player and that you understand how hard others work to achieve your goals.
The balance between being an advocate and something more powerful can be very difficult. By being confident but not aggressive, you can make others aware of your goals and objectives without putting them on the defensive and resisting teamwork. In the end, it makes your child’s situation (and in turn, yours) even better!
©R. Wellman 2011
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