Advocacy Tips for the Long Haul
6. Have a Plan for You – The Caretaker/Advocate: Quite simply, I am a mess! I have learned that when I take time for myself through exercise and/or prayer, I am a better person, and therefore, a better advocate. It’s really hard when every emotional and financial splinter of your life goes into helping your child try to succeed. I have found my greatest success is when I am rested and rejuvenated. This is not always easy for parents of special needs children as we are, by nature, jugglers. So it is essential that you find an outlet to center yourself. This time allows for you to reflect and think. For me, it’s all about the process of triathlon: swim-bike-run. I love it and it releases all of my angst. It also gives me a means to generate new ideas and feel recharged. Whatever release you choose, know that you have made the choice, to do something for you and your child’s future.
7. Keep it all: It’s a good practice to keep everything that comes home from school until the next IEP. Always keep a few examples of work for each school year. This is especially important during the elementary school years. This practice will allow you to be prepared with examples of work to back up your point of advocacy. For example, having dated writing and drawing samples can document progress/no progress. Being prepared with a neat folder shows your level of absolute awareness. It can be very powerful.
8. Confirm the Communication Plan: We have used notebooks, agendas, email and charts. They all work as long as everyone agrees on the process and the frequency. At the team meeting each year, we determine what will work for all. It’s important to have a focus that relates to specific goals. This way everyone is working together.
9. Determine the Follow Up Strategy: It’s always a great feeling when you reach a moment when everyone is united in the effort. You need to decide when the next meeting will be or how will the group resume conversation to talk about the student’s progress. It seems simple but often this step gets lost in what I refer to as a “celebratory moment.” Use the time when everyone signs on the dotted line of the IEP to confirm when the group will meet again.
10. Seek Best Practices from Other Parents and Professionals: There is no “one size fits all” strategy. So it’s important to commit yourself to being a “lifelong learner.” Advocacy is not a race; it’s a journey, so the more you learn, the more you grow. Networking through parent groups, blogs, Facebook or other social networks is a great way to exchange ideas and encourage each other. Some things I try and others I just think about. The key to being the best advocate for your child is to have an open mind.
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