Learn How to Be a Proactive Advocate for Your Child

[Dr. Ann Glang] It is very, very difficult to be an effective advocate for your child, and yet we know that when parents are effective advocates, their children benefit. We know that when parents and schools work together, kids have better outcomes. There is lots of research on that. So it is important to be a good advocate. And there's a couple of things that are pretty simple to do that can really go a long way towards making things go better. Again, I want to stress that these things have to be done proactively. That is, don't do it when the emergency has happened, when the crisis has happened. At that point, it is still going to help you but it's kind of too late. If, however, you can upfront do a couple of things, your child is going to be a lot better. So I think as a parent when you are advocating for your child it's important to do a couple of things. One is it's important to remember that you and your child's school team really have the same goals in mind, that you are moving in the same direction and if you can do that together— that in the end everybody wants the child to be successful, to do well, to eventually graduate, and go on to a productive adult life. If we can remember that and kind of start there, that's good. Second thing is to take the perspective of the school and remember that oftentimes a teacher has many, many, many demands on his or her time. Lots of kids, speaking different languages, with different disabilities in their classroom. We have to cut them a little slack because they can't be perfect. Then I think it's very, very important to use effective communication skills. By that I mean, simple things like listening and like using "I" statements and like making eye contact, not walking into a meeting and saying "My kid needs this, and you are going to provide it!" There are a lot of parents who take that approach, and sometimes the bully approach works, so they get reinforced. But in the end, you know the staff in the school are backing up when the mom comes in with that bulldog approach, and they are saying "Look out, here we go." And that doesn't benefit your child because that resentment carries forward to the child. I mean, we are only human. So if you can have instead an approach where you come in and you say, "I understand the constraints of your job. You've got a lot of kids. There's a lot going on. I also know that my child has had a very significant brain injury and has some significant problems, and I need to work with you so that we can make sure she gets what she needs." If that's the approach, that is usually met with a much better response than the other. And I have had families, because we have done some training around this, I have had families say, "Oh my gosh, that Mom who comes in like a bulldog, that's me. That's what I do. I come in. I rant and rave. I walk in with this sack of you-know-what on my back, and I dump it on the table and that's what I do to these people. You know, it's no wonder they are running when I come in." And so, when they learned, you know, some simple things like make eye contact and don't walk in like this, with your arms crossed and being angry. You know, just sitting back and being kind of open and willing to collaborate and that goes a lot farther. And in the end, when you have a nice relationship with your child's school, that's what gets your child what you want for them. You have to kind of put some of that anger and some of that resentment and guilt and whatever you are carrying in And, you know, we all have that. Especially when our child has been injured and we've got a lot of feelings that we need to kind of put aside.

Working in collaboration with your child's school and communicating clearly and calmly with teachers and administrators are two crucial strategies. Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Brian King.

See more video clips with Dr. Ann Glang.

Ann Glang

Ann Glang, PhD is a research professor and co-director of the Center on Brain Injury Research and Training (CBIRT), a center under the office of Research, Innovation and Graduate Education (RIGE) at the University of Oregon.

Posted on BrainLine July 29, 2010.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Brian King.