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Being a Parent Advocate

PRAGNYA ally and bilingual disability consultant Stella Lauerman presented a workshop on March 5 entitled “Be an Effective Advocate for your Child!” As a parent of a 31-year-old neurodiverse son, Stella has extensive experience in both advocating for her son and supporting parents of neurodiverse children. This workshop focused on learning the skills for effective advocacy, rather than the usual contexts of school IEPs (Individual Educational Plans) or Regional Center IPPs (Individual Program Plans).

Stella started off defining what “advocacy” means as a concept, and what an advocate does:

someone who supports, helps, speaks on behalf of others, and defends and argues for people or causes. As parents of neurodiverse children and youth, your most important cause is your child!

Stella stressed the crucial role that parents play as natural advocates, who have been there since their child’s first breath and are the expert on their child.

The workshop focused on an overview from two articles from Wrightslaw, an outstanding website on special education law and advocacy. The first step in effective advocacy is gathering facts and information and organizing documents to present a clear and compelling case. It is critical for parents to educate themselves about their and their child’s rights, know how decisions are made and by whom, and understand that there is a difference between “appropriate” services, and those that maximize the child’s potential. Stella also discussed the importance of other advocacy skills, including keeping good written records (often the keys to success), not being afraid to ask questions and listening carefully to the answers given. Rather than simply identifying problems, effective parent advocates propose solutions, discuss issues and make offers or proposals, and seek “win-win” solutions that will satisfy everyone’s interests.

Stella went on to present some of the most important “do’s and don’ts” recommended by Wrightslaw, including preparation, prioritizing needs and building good relationships among the “do’s”, and assuming the worst and having a closed mind among the “don’ts”. She concluded the workshop by sharing some of her personal perspective on the lessons learned in the many years of advocating for her son, echoing many of the Wrightslaw tips and focusing on the best interests of your child: not having personal agendas, being courteous and respectful, maintaining high standards and building the all-important team relationship with everyone who supports your child. Stella concluded with providing resources, including the Wrightslaw books and website, and other valuable advocacy resource information.

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