Finding the perfect balance between being an advocate and being overly pushy and demanding can be a difficult task for parents of children with special needs. Here are some tips to make it a little easier.

1. Be honest about your child’s skills and needs. If you go into a team meeting demanding that your child who is non-ambulatory be the star in the next dance recital you may not get where you really want to be. In the same light, if they are finally starting to use their words and they are never asked to use them in class it might be a good time to speak up.

2. Be polite. It sounds simple, but can be extremely difficult when you feel your child is getting the shaft. Sometimes making a less direct statement (I feel that… It seems…) can come across as less confrontational and help you get the answers you are looking for.

3. Communicate. While you may feel you are being clear in your needs for your child it may not be interpreted as such on the other side. Checking in, following up, and chatting with people other than when you need something or have an issue can really make a big difference.

4. Say you’re sorry. A heartfelt apology can go a long way in advocacy when you’ve crossed the line into jerkiness. The people working with your child know you love them and get that you want the best. Letting them know that you’re aware of your own intensity can really help smooth things over (donuts can help too).

5. Be ready to compromise. Many professionals would give your child the sun, the moon, and the stars if they could afford it. Unfortunately, many are working with an incredibly shrinking budget. Know your priorities going in and be willing to give up some things which are less important. Being willing to give a little on your end shows that you are a team player and can help them work within their own restrictions.

6. Stay focused. This can also be stated to keep your eye on the prize. It is easy to become distracted by every little issue along the way. This doesn’t mean you should ignore other concerns, but if you want more physical therapy push for that. Don’t get bogged down by so many goals that your true objective gets lost in the mix.

7. Be helpful. Continue to work with your child at home. Some people get so wrapped up in the advocacy that they forget the day-to-day work that needs to happen as well. Showing that you are fully engaged and walking the walk as well as talking the talk can really make an impact on others.

8. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes what we hear is not truly what people are saying. Professionals do their best to state the issues and concerns as they see them in the best and most accessible terminology possible. Sometimes they are not the words a parent wants to hear. It doesn’t mean that the professional is out to “get” their child. It may mean that they don’t have all of the information, have a bigger plan that they aren’t expressing well, or are just having a day where they can’t say things in a way that fully makes sense to you.

9. Ask questions. Sometimes phrasing your concern in the form of a question takes the edge off of what you really want to say. Saying “I don’t think you have the right vision for my child” can be interpreted as aggressive but saying “can you tell me where you see this plan going over the next five years” can help clarify what others are saying without coming across as mean.

10. Say thank you. Nothing makes people want to continue to work with you than a genuine thank you at the end of the day. A little note to thank someone for listening to your concerns, a word in passing for someone who took an extra step, or a letter to a supervisor can really mean a lot to the people working with your child. It doesn’t need to be huge. Even if you didn’t get everything you were hoping for, letting folks know you appreciate their efforts can earn “points” for the next issue. It shows that you are a team player and that you understand how much others are working toward the goals you have.

The balance between advocate and something stronger can be very difficult. Being assertive but not aggressive can make others aware of your goals and objectives without putting them on the defensive and resistant to working as a team. In the end, it makes things even better for your child (and in turn, for you)!

©R. Wellman 2011

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