I have been a teacher for 29 years, but a parent for 30! My son was both Gifted and Dyslexic. Throughout his school years, this presented a number of challenges, trying times, and major headaches! What I discovered as a parent is something I carried into my classroom and always encouraged parents to consciously pursue: YOU are your child’s best advocate.
When a child has Dyslexia or any other learning difficulty, he or she has every capability to be brilliant and achieve greatness. Many times, the child does not recognize this, but sees, instead, the barriers that are making learning difficult. Interventions, IEPs and 504 plans are designed to help remove some of the stumbling blocks so that each child can excel. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. I have a few pieces of advice from many years battling on behalf of my child.
Advice on Advocating
1) Don’t give up. You know your child better than anyone. If you notice that your child is not making learning gains, is struggling with academics, despises reading, writing and/or math, be concerned. Ask your child’s teacher for help, the school psychologist, the interventionist, and anyone who works with your child. Be persistent, but kind.
2) Work with others and communicate. Every year, before and after my son was provided with a 504 plan, I began the year with a conference with my child’s teacher. We met, I shared my experiences, his classroom experiences, and email address. I also kept and shared a copy of his 504 plan at the start of the year, so that there were no confusions. I faithfully emailed his teachers each week to check on progress (thank goodness for the ability to schedule reminders in email!). Working as a team with teachers helped keep my son on track. His teachers knew I would support them and help with additional support at home. If work needed to be finished, we did. If he was due a reward for positive behavior, I made sure to provide it. This partnership between us provided a platform for his growth and also a smooth path to discuss concerns without being confrontational.
3) Know your child’s rights. If kind communication doesn’t work – and, honestly, there were a few times over the years when it did not – follow through. Following through with a 504 Plan or an IEP is not optional. Teachers and schools do not have an option to decline to provide accommodations. If you must push back, speak kindly but firmly, and pursue the issue to administration. If you are not sure of your rights, understood.org is a site that can help clarify your child’s rights.
4) Teach your child what his/her IEP or 504 plan allows. When your child is old enough, perhaps middle school age, teach them what their accommodations are. They can then ask for, and receive, the assistance they need in class to be successful. I do recommend reminding students to ask for accommodations and not demand. You always catch more flies with honey!
Being an advocate for my child was sometimes difficult, but it always started with a relationship. Teachers, by nature, want children to learn and be successful. Use this, build upon it, and nurture a relationship and both you and your child will reap the rewards!
Written by Cheryl Garner
Cheryl is a Brainspring Master Instructor, Certified Dyslexia Specialist, and Nationally Board Certified Teacher. She has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school level, and was most recently an Elementary School Reading Coach.
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