Today at the supermarket, a man approached me saying I looked a lot like an advocate who used to work with his son. His son is now 30 years old, married, with a very responsible job. The man said that I had helped the family a great deal all those years ago. “You helped my wife and me stay calm, and you helped my son regain his self-esteem.” I thanked him, and went out into the parking lot with tears in my eyes.
Parents are in a bind when it comes to helping with homework. When they have a child who can’t focus long enough to complete homework assignments, or can’t understand the directions, or resists starting the assignment, or came home with the wrong book, parents sometimes over-help. As an advocate, it’s a judgment call advising a parent, guardian, grandparent, or even a sibling when to back off and only offer reasonable help at home. If there is over-helping, teachers don’t get accurate information as to how much the student can do independently. The homework or long-term assignment goes into school completed, corrected, looking neat and tidy, but it’s not the student’s work.
A few years ago I was doing some advocacy for a boy with Autism. He had come to a meeting at my office with his mom, and we needed a second meeting to go over some paperwork before meeting with the school system. The boy, Paul, appeared on my porch, saying, “Oh, I remember you. You’re that old one”. Now, granted I was quite a bit older than his mother, and Paul was simply remembering who I was. I took it in stride, agreeing with him that indeed I was the old one and we had a very productive meeting. Of course, when Paul says socially inappropriate things like that to others, to peers, to teachers, he doesn’t often get a positive response. The school system agreed he needed a social pragmatics group and eventually, Paul learned when to say what he meant in slightly more appropriate ways. Being on the Autism spectrum makes life very hard for not only the student, but for the whole family. My job as an advocate is to help everyone understand and appreciate boys like Paul, rather than judge them, punish them, or shut them out.
What It’s Not!
Special Education advocacy is not a legal process. No lawyers are required. Issues are worked out over a cup of coffee, or at a friendly Team meeting, or by text, email or phone calls, or a combination of all three.
Parents/Guardians do not have to understand all the regulations, mandates or rules to benefit from the support of an advocate.
It’s not we against them. It’s a collaborative process keeping in mind the best interests of the student who has Special Needs.
Why do I do it?
After 12 years as Director of Special Education for two school systems, and 15 years as a Special Education teacher, I became interested in offering my maturity and experience to a wide range of families and school systems as an advocate. I learn something every day. I meet with compassionate parents who are at their wits’ end, trying to work things out with their school system. I offer a friendly, stress-free approach to getting students the educational programs and support they need and deserve.
I know the state and federal laws governing Special Education, and the laws empower families and school systems in their search for the very best the student needs. Whether the child has a Learning Disability in reading, writing, or math, or has inconsistent attention, or is on the Autism spectrum, the laws point us in the right direction. But we do not have to hurl the laws at schools in order to come to agreements. We just need to listen as well as hear, to look as well as see. That’s what I do!