Parents want what is best for their children. They’re often left wondering how to best communicate a child’s specific needs to doctors, therapists, social workers, teachers and other professionals. While parents often have the closest understanding of their children’s needs, professionals have specialized training in their areas of expertise. They have spent many years receiving education on how best to help children, obtaining their credentials and training with children who have various disabilities. They have a strong understanding of various specific need areas such as medicine, education, social adjustment, speech therapy along with others. Throughout this piece, we’ll walk you through recommendations on how to mediate and advocate for your child.
Advocating for Your Child with Doctors
What kinds of questions should I ask my child’s doctor?
Everything. No question about your child’s well-being is invalid. Questions begin conversations. Your child’s doctors are there to provide you with the information you need to successfully advocate for your child. Informing the doctor about specific concerns you have about your child will make it easier for them to answer your questions and direct you towards helpful resources.
My child’s doctor’s appointments are so short. I don’t think there’s time to get my questions answered. What should I do?
The best way to make sure all of your questions get answered is to first make sure that the doctor knows you have them. Plan in advance by making a list of questions, and take them with you to your child’s appointments. Record your questions in a notebook or on a phone note taking application – whichever method ensures you don’t forget to take your questions with you.
Advocating for Your Child in School
You can help make sure the school will provide the necessary resources to ensure your child’s success. Here are some tips for advocating for your child in a school setting:
- Learn about your child’s needs. You may be able to learn more about your child’s strengths and weaknesses by talking with teachers and school staff. Watch online videos or attend workshops to learn about how to maximize your child’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Collect and organize paperwork. You may want to make binders and label everything with sections for report cards, progress reports, homework samples, medical records and IEPs.
- Build and maintain relationships. You may want to familiarize yourself with the school staff, especially the ones that directly work with your child such as the psychologist and the speech therapist.
- Feel free to ask questions whenever you need clarification, further information or to express possible issues. You may also want get these conversations in writing and put them into a communication log. This helps keep track of information and clarifies when you spoke to a school professional, what you talked about, and whether the conversation was satisfactory.
- Stay calm. Even if you are not in agreement with the school staff, maintain your composure and learn phrases that can help to redirect the conversation if necessary. You may want to keep a list of topics you want to discuss in the meetings and consider asking a family member or friend to come along and take notes so you can concentrate on getting all of your questions answered. If you prefer, you may want to hire an IEP attorney to help you navigate the IEP process.
- Teamwork. Even if it might not always seem this way, you are on the same team as school staff and educators, since you are all working towards the best interests of your child. You are an equal member of this team, so while it is important to be receptive to the school’s thoughts, you know what is best for your child and should speak out if you believe their course of action is inadequate.
- Know your child’s rights. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was created in 2004 to ensure services to kids with disabilities across the United States. They provide early intervention services from birth to age 2 and special education for ages 3 to 21. Your child may be entitled to extra time to complete work and tests, assistance with certain tasks, or other appropriate academic accommodations.
- Talk with your child. Ask them how their classes are going, if they are using their accommodations and if they are meeting with their therapists and other school staff.
- Learn the lingo. Knowing the terminology can help you understand what is going on with your child’s education.
- Communication is key. Attend all of the IEP meetings and parent/teacher conferences to receive updates on your child’s progress. PTA meetings can also be a helpful resource for information about curriculum changes. Email your child’s teacher(s) directly with questions as needed.
Doing what is best for your child might seem like a daunting task. Just remember that you do not have to do it alone; among others, your child’s doctors, teachers, therapists, and social workers are here to help you ensure your child’s health and education.
- U.S. News and World Report: Health Care: How Can Parents and Providers Work Together to Advocate for Children with Disabilities?
- Understood.org — 10 Ways to be an Effective Advocate for your Child at School
- Understood.org — Terms You May Hear and What They Mean
- ED.gov — Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004