Becoming an Effective Advocate
Parents know their children in a more profound way than anybody else. They have had years living with, observing, reacting to, understanding, and responding to their children. They have learned under what conditions their children cooperate or resist, initiate or follow, interact or withdraw, and when they are most eager to communicate.
As his trusted confidante, you know what really worries him and how complex his problems really are. Likely you are the person who knows how much school failure terrifies him. He has probably asked you, ‘What’s wrong with my brain?’
As a parent, you are the best person to advocate for your child in making these patterns of behaviour known to your child’s teacher. It is especially important so that the teacher can work with your child’s particular behaviour and learning pattern rather than against it.
An advocate is a person who effectively speaks up for, acts on behalf of, or supports someone else.
As a parent advocate, you are your child’s full-time advocate — the one with the file, so to speak, on ways to help him succeed socially and at school. You will find others, such as teachers and physicians, who can support you in advocating for your child. Consider these professionals your allies. They can use their influence to assist you in receiving needed services and programs for your child. For example, a family doctor could write a letter to the school board describing the magnitude of your child’s anxiety concerning his language immersion program to speed up a placement in a program where he will be taught in his first language.
The classroom teacher is the single most important person affecting your child’s education. The teacher has tremendous influence on your child’s happiness at school and is the person that spends one-on-one time with your child on a daily basis. It is extremely important for parents and teachers to work together to provide a good school experience for each child.
Parents need to know how and where to get appropriate information then they need to communicate this information convincingly to the appropriate helping source. For example, a parent who is told that his child is behaving immaturely in his grade three class needs to visit the class on a couple of occasions for first-hand knowledge of the problem and its seriousness.
Maybe a trip to the family doctor is in order or a conversation with another adult who works with the child in the community (e.g., the cub leader). If the parent knows that the immature behaviour stems from the fact that a sibling has been in hospital for tests, it’s best to let the teacher know so the child can get the support he needs during this stressful period. If a child is avoiding specific tasks at school (e.g., reading aloud in front of a group), the parent should understand that there must be a good reason.
A teacher lacking pertinent information about a child’s behaviour patterns, has little choice but to assume the same expectations for all students. A predictable outcome: resistance, anger, resistance, and more anger, soon add up to behaviour problems, lack of cooperation, decreased learning. Ongoing parent-teacher contact can help prevent this situation from occurring. As the child gains in academic and social competence and self-esteem, he will be more able to adjust to classroom demands, and even change his behaviour patterns in the process.
However, left unattended, even simple behavioural situations can grow out of control disproportionally, until specialists must be called in to try to peel away the layers of confusion. By this time, the child has lost precious learning time and has deepened his negative self image because of ‘his failure.’
Once a teacher understands and can put to use the information provided by the parent, the teacher in turn, can begin to provide the needed support. A child who is receptive to learning, happily reveals to his teacher the most effective way of learning.
This valuable information, the child’s learning style, can help the parent and teacher to understand and deal with a child who, for example, ‘never remembers what the teacher tells him’. This child is a visual learner, and might need to have visual cues in order to remember. A note on the chalk board could be all that is needed for Johnny to remember to bring his money tomorrow for the play. Another child might rely heavily on his auditory sense and need to hear information to remember it. Still another child may need to hear and see the information simultaneously as well as repeat it aloud. These unique learning styles are academic behaviour patterns that teachers understand and can translate for parents into strategies that they can use with their children at home as well. This information exchange between parent and teacher builds trust that leads to even better communication.
To be an effective advocate, you should:
- learn what your rights are and what your child’s rights are
- use effective communication in advocating for your rights, by engaging in active listening and being non-threatening
- find the information to make appropriate decisions
- develop problem solving techniques to overcome obstacles
- develop the confidence to do your own advocating
- take appropriate actions • analyze problems and pinpoint areas of responsibility
- support your child’s efforts towards independence
- learn about community resources and agencies
- network with other parents and groups for mutual support and
- connect with your provincial/ territorial Learning Disability Association (LDA) or your local chapter.
Adapted from Advocating For your Child with Learning Disabilities, LDAC, (1998). Ottawa, Ontario and Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center NewsLine