Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The One Place You Don't Expect to Have to Advocate (But Often Have To)

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Advocacy tips for parents, specifically in situations that you wouldn't expect to have to advocate for your child.

How to advocate for your child when and where you least expect it

There was an incident that occurred recently that brought up memories of one Christmas. I can't recall if it was last Christmas or the year before, but it was a Christmas that left me angry. I was angry for what was said and what had happened.

However, I was so proud of my husband for being the one to step up, unprompted, to advocate for our oldest's needs. I was proud of him for having to have the difficult conversation about what needed to change.

I don't really remember the specifics any more of what happened that Christmas, but the memories of the anger I felt are still there.

Fast forward to present day, where the memories of a couple weekends ago are still fresh and painful. 

My youngest had just completed his first day of basketball practice. He received his very own basketball that he could keep too. He was obviously excited about it all and wanted to share his excitement with someone later that day. 

With a large grin on his face, he began to tell this person about how he scored a basket in the game and how much fun he had, but instead, was cut off mid-sentence by this person. This person literally turned her back, walked away mid-sentence, and started a conversation with someone else.

I was furious.

Like seriously, what the hell?

Then an hour or two later, my niece made a comment about something that was obviously important to her and frankly, I agreed with her comment 100%. It was something she obviously had wanted, but ended on a sour note when she was shut down by this very same person. 

I couldn't read my niece's expression at that point so I couldn't tell how she felt about the response. But I do know how I felt.

I was taken aback yet again.

I was frustrated that my son's need to share his passion with someone was practically ignored. Then I was further frustrated by the way my niece's desires were dismissed, as if her needs and opinions were not important.

I get that they are just kids, but come on, their needs are just as important as ours.

It was that weekend where I had an advocacy epiphany of sorts, I guess you could say.

I realized something important that weekend. Two important things really.

The weekend made me question whether or not I was doing everything I could to advocate for my youngest's son's needs. Yeah, I know I was already doing everything I could to advocate for my oldest, but was I truly giving my youngest the support he needed? 

After all, every child deserves to have their needs advocated for

Yes, every single child. 

Not just the ones with quote- unquote special needs. 

Every child.

Sure, my youngest doesn't have "special needs" or require special accommodations like my oldest does, but he still has needs that should be fulfilled.

Every child deserves to have their voice heard. They deserve respect. They deserve to be shown that they are important and valued.

So by dismissing comments and turning your back while my son is excitedly describing his day, what are you telling him?

But I think the thing that really got me that weekend, was the fact that I was reminded that there is one place you often have to advocate for your child that is often overlooked. It's a place you don't expect to have to advocate, and really you shouldn't have to. But the reality is, it happens more than we think.

See the common thread between that one weekend and that one Christmas is family.

Yes, family.

You wouldn't think you would have to advocate for your child's needs within your own frigging family, but the thing is, we do.

I often get emails and see comments in support groups about how a spouse or a certain family member isn't on board with getting a child diagnosed or is struggling to get their support. It really shouldn't be that way. I mean they are our family. If anyone should be on board with supporting and understanding our children, it should be our family you would think.

But obviously, it isn't always the case.

Sometimes the place that you need to advocate the hardest is within your own family.

I know it's not easy, but you have to.

You have to stand up for your child - every child - within your family.

So What's Next? Advocacy Tips 

It's one thing to know you need to advocate, but it's another to know how to do so. Here are a few tips:

1. Stay calm and collected when bringing up your concerns with your family

2. Educate your family about your child's diagnosis (if applicable), their needs, their interests, and strategies that are helpful to keep in mind

3. Teach your child how to advocate for themselves

4. Talk to your child and ask questions so you can understand how to best advocate for them within your family

5. Set firm rules and boundaries, if needed (e.g., a family member's friend was given specific instructions not to be over when we were visiting that family member due to one of the Christmas incidents mentioned at the beginning of this post)

6. Limit or reduce visits with problematic family members, if needed (see example above)

My friend Renae has written a post geared towards grandparents of special needs grandchildren that you may also find helpful.