Your job as a parent is to make sure your children receive the best possible services. Whether this is within your school system, your pediatricians office, or your family therapist’s office. You do this because you care. But what do you do when you feel like you can’t adequately communicate the needs of your child?
You’ve probably experienced something like this when speaking to a professional:
“It doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong with him?”
“I understand you believe she has a special need, but she is a great student, well-liked, and makes good grades. We are not sure she needs any services.”
You feel lost. You are speechless. You may even feel powerless. You are frustrated, but you’re trying to be civil. You live day in and day out with this child and you’ve watched them struggle. Your heart breaks. And you want to do everything in your power to advocate for them. But you’re sitting in the office of someone who spent years and years in school to earn the letters next to their name. They’re telling you they don’t see what you see. Essentially they are telling you you’re wrong.
And most likely, for a majority of your life, you’ve been conditioned (unknowingly) to not question the pros. Maybe you even know this pro personally and it would make it even more awkward to question them.
But you know vital information about your child is going unnoticed. You know what you’ve seen and experienced with them in your home. You know more is going on than the pro is willing to accept. How do you successfully advocate for you and your child when it seems you’re up against a wall and not getting anywhere? Here are some suggestions that have gained positive results over the years for us…
Remain calm. We’ve said this before (especially when we talk about entering into IEP meetings), but you have to stay calm and collected. No matter what. If you’re entering a follow-up meeting, enter calm. Enter collected. Maintain control of your emotions. I know how hard this is to do. You are immersed in this journey with your child. You have wounds on your heart, and maybe even physically on your body. You are exhausted and you want answers because you love your kiddo. It’s easy to wear those emotions on your sleeve. But…and this is a big BUT, you must….remain…calm! Calm people get noticed. Calm people are respected. Crazy people get ignored…or added to a watch list.
Calm people get noticed. Calm people are respected. Crazy people get ignored…or added to a watch list.
Enter prepared. Near the beginning of our journey, when we walked into our first IEP meeting, we researched ahead of time, scoured the Internet, and downloaded a ton of content, printed it out, and took it with us to the meeting. We did the same when we met our children’s new pediatrician a few years after. Not only did we research and print, we read as much as we could on FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) before the meetings, NOT for the purpose of one-upping or proving the guidance counselor, or therapist wrong (this is important), but because we desired to be on the same page with them and get the best results for our kiddos. Remember–you are the greatest expert on your child. You’re not the ONLY expert, but you are the greatest, because you live this life with your child.
Take others. Many, many years ago, we received call from a special education teacher demanding that we “feed our son breakfast every morning!” This came weeks into the school year. We were dumfounded. Our children have never not received a meal. As we were preparing for this emergency meeting with the principal, guidance counselor, and this teacher, our family therapist gave us valuable advice. “Take me with you,” she said. Not only did we decide to take her because she knew exactly how my child operated, we also took our close friend who understood my child’s disorder. We didn’t do this for the purpose of winning, we did so for the purpose of advocacy. It worked. We knew that we couldn’t adequately (in those days) communicate what was really going on, so we took an entourage. If you feel like you won’t be heard properly, take others with you, especially if those ‘others’ are also professionals.
Be persistent. Don’t stop until you get the results you are looking for, and the services your child deserves. This is crucial. Never ever ever accept face value on an answer you’re given by a pediatrician. Same is true if you’re a foster parent and you’re not getting adequate answers from a case manager. Call, email, text, Facebook message, day after day after day, then wash, rinse and repeat! If you give up, or accept defeat, you will not receive the services your child needs.
Remember that most professionals (doctors, therapists, teachers, school administrators, etc.) have your child’s best interest in mind. Not always, but usually. They may just not fully understand your child’s unique disorder (FASD or attachment issues are classic examples). That’s why it’s important that you use that God-given voice of yours, and all of the resources at your fingertips, and advocate. You have more power than you think you do.
Mike and Kristin Berry are the authors of the Confessions of an Adoptive Parent blog and the book The Adoptive Parent Toolbox. They are the parents of 8 children, all of whom are adopted. Mike and Kristin’s passion is to reach overwhelmed, weary, and stressed out parents, all over the globe, with this message: “There is hope…..you’re not alone on this journey!”