I have always known in my heart that Z was different from other children. I never wanted my son to have a diagnosis. I never wanted him to have a label. I never wanted him to be treated differently than anyone else. As a baby I knew Z was different. He never wanted to be held, he never snuggled, he was happiest swinging in his swing alone. He was not very strong physically, he didn’t roll over till 8 months old and he did’t walk until almost 19 months. It was more and more noticeable and obvious going through every stage & age as he grew.
I by no means am trying to be disrespectful to teachers. I respect all teachers and what they do. They have a difficult job and work very hard. I do however have a problem when a teacher disregards their obligations and responsibilities to my special needs child. Those are the teachers of whom I speak about here. This has been my experience and is my opinion. They are GREAT teachers out there and let me tell you when we get one I tell them they are Amazing. I continually Thank them endlessly. I express my incredible gratitude for their hard work, following through with their responsibilities and commitment to each of their students as often as possible.
Advocating for your child with any kind of diagnosis is a literally a full time job. My Son was diagnosed at 7 years old with A.D.H.D and then at 9 years old he was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism. (Formerly known as Asperger’s) There is no right or wrong way to Advocate. I know for me my Mama Bear comes out incredibly quick when it comes to having to do with anyone messing with my children. You can mess with me, you can hurt me all you want but DO NOT mess with my kids. It has taken me years to learn the ropes of how to advocate and what to do in certain situations. There is a pecking order of who can make things happen and who can just be a listening ear. I know that with each step I have learned that the people who you’d think should know and understand that our children are different in many different ways truly do not. Many of those people are the ones you must also keep your eye on because if you give them an inch they will take 10 miles to not follow through with their responsibilities.
I have learned that Any/All School staff will tell you anything you want to hear in the “meeting”. (IEP or 504) They will tell you that every single thing will be put in place in the classroom so that your child will have all the accommodations s/he needs everyday to be a successful student. Which I have learned the hard way that this truly depends on the teacher and how much they understand that our kids think, do, learn and process things differently. Sadly, I have had issues with many teachers who don’t even read or comply at all with Z’s 504 what so ever.
I have learned that many teachers will tell you that they have so many kids and that there have been lots of budget cuts. They will tell you their class size goes up every year giving each student less and less time to be noticed if they are struggling, rarely given that one on one assistance the struggling student needs to keep up with their peers or given any thought to my “normal” looking child who needs these accommodations everyday in every class because it is VITAL to his academic success. Unfortunately this is not always the teachers choice but it truly affects their capabilities to keep each and ever child on track academically. Every student learns in different ways. Teachers are told how to teach or teach one specific way which is comfortable for themselves. You can talk to the teachers till you are blue in the face. But really they have no choice but to teach the best they can with the time, expectations and constraints that are put on them. They have to tell you they understand your frustrations, they will listen to your pleas but it won’t get you anywhere. They don’t have the time or the authority to change things.
I have learned that there are many teachers who assume one kid with a certain diagnosis is just like the next one and the next one that they have had in their classroom. They forget that every child learns differently and each process things better in certain ways. Even every Neuro-typical child learns the same way. The same goes for every Autistic (Insert Any Diagnosis here) child who each learns, does, and processes things differently. We all are unique in our own ways and we all have a specific way that works best for us to learn. Yet each teacher teaches the same thing the same way to every student cause that is their job. Unfortunately there are only so many hours in a day.
5 Tips I’ve learned to Advocate for your Special Needs Child:
- Be the Squeaky Wheel – Call, Request a meeting, E-mail (*Especially include the Super Intendent*), the principle, talk to the counselor, and include the teacher in the e-mails you are sending with your concerns or issues. As MANY times as you NEED TOO!! But do NOT stop until they are fulfilling their obligations/responsibilities to your child and complying with each and every accommodation or need for your child.
- Do Not Assume – Don’t assume because they tell you they are doing something that they actually are. Just because they tell you something in your meeting that does not mean it will be enforced in the classroom each and every day. It is literally checking in and asking questions. Follow your child grades and assignments throughout the semester. Don’t let your child slip through the crack because a teacher is NOT fulfilling their obligations to what your child needs them to do.
- Be Mama Bear – Protect your child’s rights and know what they are. If you can’t get the school to comply move up the chain of command go to the state Department of Special Education. File complaints. Your child deserves to have his/her needs met everyday in every class. Don’t let anyone intimidate you and don’t take no for an answer.
- Talk to your child- If at all possible try to get their input of how things are going with their teacher. They are there and know what is going on or not. For us it is hard because Z is not a big fan of conversations. He has trouble with the give and take of conversations and will answer what ever he can think of to get out of the conversation. So like I said IF you can talk with your child they have the inside scoop. But for us its stuck inside him usually. But once in a while he is the one that proves the school is in the wrong.
- Find an Parent Advocate– Usually there is at least one person in the school who will at least listen and try to help you. Even if they can fix the problems it is nice to know someone cares, will listen and you have a safe place to vent when things aren’t going right. For me it is usually the school counselor because they are taught to listen and care. That is their job. Last year it was the school districts Psychologist who took on the fight with me and helped me advocate for Z when I felt like NO ONE was listening to me.
You are doing Great. You are doing the Best You Can!! Don’t give up. Don’t back down!! Keep talking, calling, e-mailing till you get the Problems you child is having fixed. Make sure the the school and teachers continue to do their jobs appropriately, they keep following through with their responsibilities, and are complying daily in every class with the legal documents that they signed and by law are obligated to follow.