Being the parent of a child with special needs can bring about conflicting feelings, especially when it seems as though everyone expects you to be a fierce advocate for your child.
I don’t say that lightly; I’m in the trenches with you all. Two of my children have special needs and although I am a fierce advocate for them, I’m often conflicted about how to balance that with just being “mom.”
One of the things that often comes up when I talk to parents is that they don’t feel like they have the emotional energy or training to advocate for their child. They don’t know where to start and feel discouraged before they even begin. My answer to that?
You’re probably already advocating for your child with special needs.
Advocacy doesn’t always have to be big and loud. It doesn’t always have to be done with a specific goal in mind. It doesn’t always have to be about fighting for something. Sometimes advocacy is smaller and quiet. It’s not done to get an end result or fight for something. Sometimes advocacy is simply just about being Mom or Dad.
Not convinced? Here are five things you’re probably already doing that has set you on the path to being your child’s advocate.
1. Trusting your instincts.
You may not always trust your instincts when it comes to parenting, but if you know your child has special needs, you trusted them at least once. You trusted them enough to know that something wasn’t going according to plan, no matter how much other parents reassured you this (whatever this may be) was within the range of typical development.
You trusted your instincts enough to speak up when you were in the doctor’s office and to take your child to appointments with a specialist. You trusted them to know that even though you might not feel strong enough to hear it, getting a diagnosis for your child was the way to start helping him.
And you’ll trust them enough to speak up when your child needs a service he’s not getting or when you’re concerned that things aren’t going well in school, too.
2. Asking questions.
Another way to look at all those questions you ask about your child’s future and his present is that you’re educating yourself. You’re learning more about his disability and needs as a way to make a plan for him. You’re educating yourself in order to find out what treatments, therapies, interventions and strategies are going to help him.
And asking questions to learn more puts you on the path to advocating for what he needs in order to learn.
3. Answering questions.
You may think questions about “what’s wrong with your child?” or “why don’t you just…?” are rude and thoughtless. You’re right; they are. But when you answer questions or respond to comments, you have a choice: Are you going to say something snarky in return or are you going to use this as an opportunity to educate other people?
Sometimes it’s really tempting to be snarky (and sometimes you will be), but answering those questions seriously is advocacy work. If the person who asked the question walks away knowing more about your child and his needs, you’ve made one more person aware.
Keep answering questions. As your child’s advocate, you’ll even have to start answering the ones people don’t ask!
4. Looking for solutions.
Solutions aren’t the same thing as fixes or cures. They are ways to work with your child’s strengths and work around his weaknesses. Finding solutions is something you do every day without even thinking about it. Solutions are the little changes you make in your daily routines, the therapies your child participates in or, if you’re like me, the clothes you buy without tags that will set off a sensory meltdown.
Looking for solutions is at the very heart of being your child’s advocate.
5. Celebrating the small victories.
Maybe you’re not here yet, and that’s OK. But it’s a good place to get to. The day my child with Asperger’s syndrome told me he was worried about his friend because she seemed upset, I celebrated two small victories–his ability to sustain a friendship and his ability to empathize with his friend.
Celebrating the small victories is a way of marking the progress toward larger goals and it’s a way to recognize that small things can feel big. That’s advocacy.
And small things can add up to big things, too. You don’t have to worry about how to become an advocate for your child with special needs. The seemingly small things you’re already doing means you’re already advocating.
Share your thoughts: How else are you already advocating for your child?