Being a parent is the hardest job that I have ever been entrusted with for all the obvious reasons. There is no manual, no two children are the same, my normal way of creating templates that I can repeat mindlessly doesn’t work here. All the ways that I can work smarter rather than harder in other roles, can not be applied to this job. I learned very early on that parenting was just not a job that I could prepare for. I bought everything on the suggested nursery list, and tried to anticipate any need I felt that they would have before they arrived. But… still there were just things that could not be anticipated .
It is often said that a parent is a child’s first teacher and also their first example of God’s love. Both scary sentiments, if you ask me, but equally true. And, as such it is our responsibility to advocate for them and their needs. I don’t often talk about my daughter and her speech and educational challenges, and I think most people keep these things within the family. But, recently the thought occurred to me that there are parents who do not advocate for their children because they are afraid, embarrassed, uncertain and unaware of the resources that are available to them. And I don’t know, maybe I would have felt this way too if I was not surrounded by knowledgeable friends and family who were able to point me in the right direction.
Even though my daughter is just 11 years old, I feel like we have already been on quite a journey together. At an early age she was diagnosed with a Significant Speech Delay and Auditory Processing Disorder. She has been in Speech Therapy since she was 3 years old and has had an IEP since the 1st grade. I know first hand how hard it is to accept that your child has a delay or special needs that make her different. But, once you come to peace with this, the world is literally your oyster. Now, I won’t lie to you and tell you that the sea will part and the mountains will crumble. You are in for an uphill battle, but one that is possible and even if progress is slow, one that can be rewarding.
- Know your child’s strengths and weaknesses. What I mean by that is, be an expert on your child. Don’t allow anyone else to tell you what will work for him or her. When my daughter started school, she was VERY VERY VERY shy. Now, I am sure that you are thinking that most Kindergartners are. And, that is true. But, in her case, it took her a while to warm up to strangers. And, I knew that. So I let everyone who would be working with her know that. She would also get frustrated when she was trying to express herself and others could not understand, and any kind of aggression towards her, made her shut down. So I made all of that known. In fact, call me a “Helicopter Mom” if you like. But, I would literally write a letter to the teachers at the beginning of the year to make sure that they went into the new school year knowing just who she was and the best way to reach her.
- Be diligent in your pursuit of services. It is the public school systems responsibility to see to it that your child is educated. You might think ok, well I can leave that there. Wrong. You can not. There are seven different recognized learning styles. Knowing which ones work best for your child can improve both the speed and the quality of your child’s education. That being said, If the arrangements that are set in place for your child are not working it is your responsibility to seek out a situation that better suits their needs. The key to this is being involved enough to see the red flags. For example. even though IEP’s are pretty common now a days, you may have to request that your child be evaluated to determine if he or she needs one. The meetings can be long and tedious, but it gives you an opportunity to both get your concerns across and work with those who come in contact with your child to make sure that he or she has the accommodations that she needs. Extra time for testing, a Small Group Setting, or Additional Study Skills just to name a few
- Build a team. I was beyond lucky when it came to my team. And, I don’t just mean the people who interact with your child at school. But, a support team, I had my Mom, my sister, and my husband who I felt were all equally vested in my daughter’s success. And then as fate would have it, the very first Speech Therapist that the school paired her with was hand picked by God. She was able to pull my daughter outside of herself and give her some of the confidence that she was lacking by helping her with her speech and by her sweet and encouraging nature. In addition to that , she was the gentle hand that guided the team at school that worked with her.
- Be both forgiving and flexible. For me this was a new experience, so I say be forgiving because you are learning as you go. But, even if this is not your first time at the rodeo, no experience is going to be the same. And, sometimes the goals and milestones you put in place originally, will need to be revamped and changed, or even thrown out all together.
- Accept limitations. As I said before things may not move as quickly as you would like, and that could be as far as how quickly your child is learning and making strides. Or, it could mean how long it takes to get additional testing done or to receive additional resources
- Don’t Give Up!! This is the most important point that I will make in this whole post, because it is a frustrating process. It is hard to see your child try and fail, and be discouraged. It is hard for you not to become emotionally drained on their behalf. Or to stop yourself from feeling like what you are doing is not yielding results. But, you have to stay strong because you are the only one who can fight this fight for them.