In the dictionary, "Advocacy" is defined as the act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; to be active in support of something. Being an advocate for your child comes naturally as a parent, but when your child has special needs, especially autism, it is even more important to be a strong advocate for your child. With the variety of how autism presents itself in different children, it is vital for you to be a voice for what "works" and doesn't for your child and not let others who spend far less time with your child determine unitarily what will be offered to your child. What might seem obvious to you isn't necessarily seen by everyone. It is important for you to make your concerns known along with the solutions you desire. You need to let the school know that you are not happy with the progress that is being made, or if you feel things are being addressed incorrectly. It is vital for you to help ensure that your child is getting everything that they need, whether it be within your family, at school, with friends, at therapies, and in the community in general. Ultimately, the goal will be to have your child advocate for themselves. This starts with simple personal interactions and continue to transform to where they will fight for what the want for themselves.
Advocacy is NOT a simple process. It is not just going in and demanding what you want. To be truly effective it takes time to develop a relationship with those that are working with your child. It is of course important to be well informed and know your rights, but it is also important to understand the others' points of view as well. When you understand their position, you are more capable of presenting your ideas in such a way to have others more open to your suggestions. Despite what you may have encountered or have heard from others, it is not necessary to be a confrontational situation when you present your wishes for your child to others.
How to Prepare to Advocate for Your Child
The first thing you need to do when preparing to advocate for your child it to define to yourself what you are wanting to gain or accomplish. Once you have determined this you need to think of some possible solutions that would be acceptable. Keep these in mind, but remain open to other suggestions.
Next, you need to find facts that support what you are asking for. What sounds logical to you may seem outlandish to others, but if you have facts to support what you are asking for it makes your arguement more sound. Also, investigate if you have any rights, laws, or benefits that add support to your requests.
Look at your request from the others' point of view. This way you can anticipate how they may act and respond to your requests, and prepare counters to their objections or other reactions.
Stay rational. Do not let your emotions get involved, and don't let the encounter become personal. Be aware others may become emotional, but remind them of the rational and factual matters you are presenting and that it is not a personal attack on them. Also, are you talking to the right person to get what you want? If you are talking to the wrong person, they may become defensive or just dismiss your intentions altogether.
Finally, offer some of the acceptable outcomes you determined earlier. Nowi it is your turn to listen to their arguements and solutions.
Do not accept anything that is not a "win-win" situation. There shouldn't be a "compromise." When you compromise at least one party looses. The solution that is agreed upon should benefit everyone. When everyone benefits no one feels resentful and it is easier for everyone to follow-through with what was agreed upon.
Basically when you go to advocate for your child; Act like a lawyer. By this I mean, act like you are presenting a case before a jury. State what you want. State why you want it (think "just the facts"). Present acceptable verdicts.
Speaking in Letters
When you meet with others to advocate for your child you are likely to notice that much of the conversation is spoken in just letters. All professions have jargon and "short-speak," but it seems especially prevelant in the world of special education. Special educators love to talk in letters.
Click here to find a list of the most popular acronyms in special education and autism that you will encounter.
The Indivdualized Education Plan (IEP)
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