As parents we often have moments when we have to walk that fine line between being an advocate for our child and not becoming that mom. She is the one who consistently comes off just a little too strong. She is the one does not realize or care that she has lost credibility by standing on a soapbox a few too many times.
Oh, come on. You know who I’m talking about.
Many parents have that mom in our heads when debating whether (and in what way) to go to bat for our child. The most important thing is to not let her actions stop you from speaking up on behalf of your child. Just do it differently.
So how can we walk that fine line of speaking up when it is necessary and doing so with credibility and candor?
Recently I had experience with my son and becoming an advocate for his health. It was that old mother’s intuition that brought me to a second doctor years after one had dismissed us with the same symptoms and concerns. Fortunately, the second doctor saw my concerns as valid and agreed with me that this particular case required further testing. I wrote about it here hoping that it would inspire other parents to pursue answers on behalf of their child if their own instincts are sending up red flags. Do not let anyone, no matter what it says on their credentials or resume, dismiss you without a valid rationale.
The experts agree that the best way to be an effective advocate is to be organized. In other words, have all your proverbial ducks in a row. Bring documentation of your case if possible, whether your concern is medical, educational or otherwise. Bring research to back up your concerns. Providing the other party with proof or helpful data will generate validity and forward progress.
Particularly when you are dealing with an education issue, it is recommended to put all communication in writing.
Lisa Lightner, a reputable special education advocate and writer at A Day in Our Shoes had this to add about parent advocacy, “I was given two pieces of advice when I began the process of becoming a certified Special Education Advocate, and I still refer to them in my mind often. One is to always remain child focused. Many parents know that IEP negotiations can become contentious if not hostile. You are going to find some people that are terrible at their jobs and some that just outright ignore special education laws and lie to you. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to “get” them. Keep the focus of your time and energy on your child’s needs and addressing those needs.
The other piece of advice is to remember that the parent is an equal member of any IEP team. The other members of the team may outnumber and they may have fancy degrees. That doesn’t change the fact that in the law’s eyes, you are an equal member of the IEP team. It doesn’t mean you have to be an obnoxious jerk about it–just don’t be intimidated or be that shrinking violet. You know your child better than anyone. Stay child focused, make sure your points are heard, and it will help you reach your destination.”
Dr. Deborah Gilboa is a board certified Family Physician, a mother of four and founder of AskDoctorG.com, a resource for parents. Her expert opinion on advocating for your child is this, “You should go to a doctor for an expert opinion. Both parts of that statement are important. First off, make sure you feel your doctor is an expert – both in their field of medicine and in the skill of compassionate communicating WITH (not at or for or to) patients. If you don’t feel heard, if your actual concern or question was not answered – they are not the expert you need. Then remember that you go for an opinion. Not a decision or a judgment or decree. If that opinion makes sense to you and your world view, great! If it sounds off or wrong or incomplete, say so or look for a different doctor.
Your doctor wants to help you but isn’t psychic. Say what you’re thinking, express your concerns, ask questions. Also remember, sometimes we parents ARE worried but it turns out to be our anxiety – our child is fine. Your doctor is trying to figure out where each question comes from – a real problem, a parent’s worry, or a combination. If you and the doctor disagree about that answer? Say so. If you can’t say something like that to your doctor? You have the wrong doctor.”
So if it is time for you to take a stand, then do what you must on behalf of your child. Be strong and expect an actionable response.
Do you have a story about being an effective advocate for your child in a way that will help other parents? If so, please share it with us!