For more than a decade I’ve been a parent. In that time, I’ve learned that I am the best advocate my kids have. This is true for you as well. That’s right, parents, I’m looking at all of you. I’m charging you to advocate for your kids. Nobody else is going to unless you get the ball rolling.
I’d like to share a story with you, one that I’ve told many times over the years but never shared publicly. Let me preface this by saying that my son does not like to be the center of attention. I tend to respect his wishes and don’t draw a lot of attention to him on the blog without his permission so sharing this story is a big thing.
When my son started kindergarten we knew he had some speech delays. He’d been tested just before turning three and we provided the school with that information. Still, they evaluated him again and it was again determined that he would benefit from speech therapy. Naturally, a speech delay at that age impacts the ability to make letter sounds and ultimately read. His teacher, a new, young teacher, was probably not the best fit for my son given his delays. It didn’t take long before I realized she had no understanding of how my son’s delays affected his performance at school. She quickly dismissed my son as not understanding what was happening and tried to press me down the special education route indicating that he clearly would not pass kindergarten because he could not delineate between letter sounds. This obviously surprised me because Maddox read at home on a daily basis.
I pressed this teacher about how she came to this conclusion. She said Maddox could not read in front of the class or in front of her. She pointed out that when he was tested on sounds he mixed some up and gave the same sounds for letters. My jaw dropped. She knew he received speech therapy because they pulled him from her class for the sessions. The letters he “mixed up” were his problem letters. We went back and forth for some time with her continue to push a special education packet at me. The meeting did not end well. I’m not proud of some of the vocabulary I chose to use in that meeting, but what was happening at school was NOT okay.
Over the next few weeks, I went back and forth with the teacher and the principal. They insisted that my son needed more than a regular classroom could do for him. I was told that my son would have to repeat kindergarten. They voiced serious concerns about his IQ. It did not matter that his age three testing noted no concerns about his mental capacity. I researched our options. Maddox’s prior sitters and preschools submitted letters about their experiences with him. Nobody saw what these two people were seeing. All the while, Maddox was being singled out in the classroom. He was not allowed to have a book during story time because the teacher insisted he couldn’t read them. She gave him letter cards instead. I asked to have him transferred to a different classroom and was denied. Calls were made to the school board. HIs pediatrician entered the mix.
It was beyond stressful.
Then, I changed gears. I know this isn’t possible for everyone, but sometimes, a change of scenery is necessary. As it happened, we were in the process of moving back to Ohio so I spoke with my now-ex-husband and we decided it would be best for Maddox to move back early with him and switch schools mid year. The teacher at his old school could not understand why he wouldn’t be back, she feigned concern. “But, Maddox is such a sweet boy! I thought we were reaching an understanding.” She didn’t realize that my sudden silence didn’t mean I accepted her assessment of my son. With a smile on my face, I politely explained that the situation in her classroom clearly did not benefit Maddox so we opted to move him early. I left her standing there, slack-jawed. It felt good.
Advocate versus Complain – the Difference
There is a difference. Complaining gets you nowhere. Being an advocate means educating yourself and attending every meeting, writing every email, making every call with confidence and facts at your back. I never attacked the teacher’s inexperience or inability to understand a child with a speech delay. Nothing I said was personal when I met with these people. Advocating for your child is about facts and what you can present to back your case. In the above example, I was prepared to go to the school board and beyond if need be. Fortunately I didn’t have to.
That’s not always the case. As you can see with my post on Academic Acceleration, sometimes you stand and fight. Often it ends in compromise. But, the bottom line is that you advocate for your child. You back your statements with facts and figures, examples of why you are right or why something is necessary. Make people listen. Find the right people and reach out until they hear you. Don’t complain or whine or accuse.
Advocating for your children is part of your role as parent. They may not understand the best ways to achieve what they want or need. Hell, kids may not even know what they need and that’s up to YOU as a parent to address it. Just make sure that before you go in, guns blazing, that you have your ducks in a row and that means having your facts straight.
Resources about Advocating for Your Child
These are some of the resources I turn to when I need some guidance, hopefully you’ll find something worthwhile.
If You Were Wondering….
What happened with Maddox? He’s about to graduate 5th grade. The kid still doesn’t like to read or write but he’s a solid student who excels in math. Maddox has passed every grade the first time through and will exit speech therapy at the end of the school year. He has many friends, smiles readily. Though we have some concerns about ADHD (a whole different post) we are prepared to advocate appropriately for him. Not one of Maddox’s teachers since Kindergarten has thought he needs special education services. Not one.