We’ve encountered a nice little wrinkle on the pathways in autism with our new school district in Florida where we just recently moved. We do not believe it to be a large issue and believe it is going to be resolved quickly. We are starting out on the right foot with our new administration, so we expect change to happen quickly. It has to do with bussing of our oldest who attends class in a mainstream classroom, but who is being pulled out early (illegal) because he has to ride a bus with supports according to his IEP (an aide). Our initial discussions these last few days began as usual with their explanation to us of “district policy” and “that’s how they do it here”. Let me stop right here for just a moment and give you a page from our advocate playbook. This will be the first time I have tried to provide an inside look of our mindset and how we approach these types of obstacles, how we develop our campaign and then execute the battle plan (as we all know sometimes we really HAVE to prepare LITERALLY for a battle when it comes to advocacy with our school district, don’t we? lol). I will refine the following in time, but hopefully this will allow you to, as dangerous as it may sound, walk into my mind for just a moment. Watch your step!
THE MINDSET: We approach every challenge we have as best as we can with a humble, firm, fair and Christ-like attitude (as best as is possible when dealing with charged emotions when it deals with your own kid – I know you all know exactly what I’m talking about. Believe me you we have more or less lost it at times, and have witnessed other parents do the same who we have advocated for in IEPs in the past). We go into it with a positive mindset that we will find a collaborative, partner-like solution to every challenge or problem (even when confronted with strong resistance from them at the onset). Having a hope-oriented, solution-oriented, positive mindset allows for you to see more opportunities in which to gather your facts and prepare your argument for the change needed for your kid’s benefit. Doing this also allows you to look for more angles to approach the problem instead of just getting emotionally charged and attacking it like a bull head-on. The idea is to at first find the path of least resistance of the change you want in order to get a better angle on what exactly the resistance is. When you get a different angle, viewpoint or understanding of the point(s) of resistance then you can attack the resistance from a different vantage point. Please don’t get me wrong here. We approach with meekness and humility, but because my wife and I are armed with years of reading, research, education, experience, a network of professionals to draw knowledge and ammunition from (which are all ALWAYS growing as we work to get even better at advocating), plus a never-quit, bulldog-like attitude we always go into it prepared to go the distance and wage all out war if necessitated. Savvy? Let’s move on…
THE APPROACH:Research, Read and go to your network for help! First of all, our guard and radar is always up for any potential harm that anyone could even bring to our boys. We have developed a somewhat instinctual radar that goes off when either their special ed rights are being violated or they are being taken advantage of in someway. We parents kinda have a sixth sense when somethings not right, don’t we? So, when an issue arises, here’s what we do:
1) Make sure we fully understand the issue at hand. (Do we really grasp what’s going on, have all the facts, have a good perspective of same and are we being OBJECTIVE (logical) about the issue and not just PROTECTIVE (emotional). (In a fight, as anyone who has studied any sort of physical hand-to-hand combat/martial arts/wrestling knows, you have to leave emotion at the edge of the mat and leverage your hones skills against your adversary. So is it true in advocacy for your child.)
2) Do your homework on the issue. Research, read and go to your network for help! Google, or search your favorite engine for the issues or topics related to your situation to see what you may be able to find. Read and reference good books that you have already read and studied that are particular to the issue at hand. (You should be developing a library of great autism and related reference material to hone you ability to properly and effectively advocate – this isn’t optional if you’re serious about helping your child). Network with those friends who are also advocates for autism or special needs and pick their brain to see if they have heard of or can point you in the right direction with your issue. Network on blogs like this and related websites and ask the author of the blog for advice (Sidebar: We are ALWAYS open and willing to give advice or perspective – just reach out to us right here at the green CONTACT US button on the left side of the page!). For legal issues such as our particular issue Wrightslaw is priceless for the wealth of information it provides to the parent who is willing to do the research (Their link is on my blogroll to the right). Also, play devil’s advocate as well. Ask yourself what your opponent is likely to say or do and why? This also helps you find angles. If you dig in and try to develop some understanding of the issue IN THEIR SHOES, it will allow you to more fully understand yours and how to develop your campaign against them to affect change for your kids.
DEVELOP YOUR CAMPAIGN: Start with a broad-based, tentative plan on how you are going to attack the issue. We like to be overly informed after doing our homework, so when we approach the opponent about the issue we go in armed with facts (logical and planned), not emotion (protective and defensive). Now, on this one point alone I could write pages and pages and I think in the future I just may, but for now you have to have at least a fairly clear picture of what your initial steps are going to be, your purpose for taking those initial steps and be prepared for what you think their next counter move is going to be. Perhaps my summary of our current issue and how I apply these will make sense in the next posting.
EXECUTE THE BATTLE PLAN: ATTACK! Get the wheels in motion on your battle plan. This is where you make your initial move by making contact with your opponent to address the issue and, using your mindset of meekness and humility (while always having your big stick near if need be) start guiding/influencing your opponent toward a solution to the problem. This will usually entail a live meeting or continued talks over the phone. The smaller the issue, the quicker the solution is usually achieved. For example: calling the school to address why your daughter’s aide continues to forget to pack her hat and gloves into her backpack before sending her home on the bus. One polite phone request to the aide or teacher will, in all likelihood, will resolve the issue. The larger the issue, the more time, energy and advanced tactics are required to solve the matter. For example: getting specific research-based methodology (like 30 hours of 1:1 ABA), or an out-of-district placement for services in her IEP. Bring a lunch or two! There is much more to this topic as well, but it is my hope that the next posting will start to bring a little clarity to what I’m trying to share here!
Until next post!