Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Advocating for Our Children

I've been thinking about how to approach this post for days now. As with just about anything considered "sane", there is a sweet spot in the middle of this. First, let's delineate the extremes. At one end of the spectrum are parents who blame their children for everything, ignore their issues, don't get them help when it's needed and available, etc. At the other end are parents who fight so hard for their children to be the best at everything, or included in everything, or always in the right that they cannot see the reality of the child in front of them. I'm sure we all can tell stories about a parent who behave in one or other of those ways and if we are honest we can remember times when we personally behaved in that way. But, the goal is to stay squaring in the middle of those two extremes as much as possible. Let me give a few concrete examples of how I have tried to stay in the middle.

I have children with speech issues. Even my oldest, who is adopted, had us worried for a time that his speech wasn't developing as it should. Since I had been in speech therapy as a child, along with all five of my siblings, I was well aware of how it could help. We first had my oldest tested at about age three, I think. He was behind, but the therapist wasn't sure he needed therapy to catch up. She gave us a few instructions about how to help him ourselves and sent us home. We used a few of her techniques and then within a few months his speech blossomed (not necessarily because of our efforts, not implying a cause-effect relationship here). It was like he just started talking in sentences. No more worries. But then, with both of my daughters, I requested that the school district test them in pre-school, even before any teachers mentioned an issue. I heard my daughters speak with the same mistakes I had made before therapy and I knew that early intervention worked best. They both started speech therapy at three years old which has continued into elementary school and are speaking much better now!

On the other side, I have been fairly aggressive about requesting that my children be tested for the gifted program in school. I was always at the top of my class and I hope that my children will have that same experience. My son tested in while he was at the end of first grade. My oldest daughter's first grade teacher didn't recommend her for testing, even though I requested it. It's possible she had reservations, but she didn't discuss them with me, she just didn't do it and every time I asked she said she was "getting around to it". Her second grade teacher was willing to make the recommendation, but then the application sat at the school district office for months. I finally got annoying and called them repeatedly to make sure they got the testing done. I followed up with them and once they started moving, they kept me pretty well informed along the process.

Ultimately, however, I got a letter that she didn't get in. I wanted details about why and met with them in person. They were great about explaining it all to me – she had missed the cut-off by THREE percentage points. I could tell they were a little on the defensive, probably because they expected me to come in demanding that she be let in. That wasn't my attitude. It might have been if I had thought the process was unfair, but it wasn't. They actually did their best. Now, I know what my next steps need to be should I care to pursue the issue further. But, that decision is up to my daughter. I would love for her to have the experience of the gifted program curriculum, but I'm not going to push it for my personal reasons. At least I keep saying that I won't and I'm trying to keep my mouth shut to her, so that she can make her own decision about it. She knows what I know about the process, but I told her it was her choice to pursue or not pursue.

I think the underlying theme is really to see your children for who they are – the good and the bad. Be a strong advocate when they need help that only you can provide or find for them, and then back off so that our advocacy doesn't interfere with their own life development. Sounds simpler and easier said than done.

No comments: