Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Soldiers United for a Cause

As my state department of education works its way through the process of reauthorizing its special education regulations, I have begun to pay closer attention to the parents who are the strongest advocates for their children with disabilities. These are the parents who respond quickly when an email request for advocacy and support is sent. These are the parents who show up for public meetings and support group sessions. These are the parents whose names show up in the letters to the editor of our local newspapers. I could probably count the number of these parents I see and hear from frequently using just my fingers and toes.

Where are the new parents – the ones whose children have just recently been diagnosed? And where are the parents of the young adults, children who are moving into the work force, or worse, institutional care? I have a theory that might provide answers, but I hope I am wrong.

I believe the new parents are overwhelmed. Their pain is fresh – their view of the future is overwhelming. They may be so busy just providing care for their infant’s medical needs, that thoughts of school and work never enter their minds. They may still be in denial, denial which would have to evaporate as they begin to consider the future. Their lives present day to day challenges, and they do not yet have the skills to tackle those challenges head on, much less add on the additional challenge of advocacy. They are still riding rough emotional seas, and no safe port is in view.

The parents of young adults, I believe, are worn out and down. They have fought the battles for so many years, and probably have lost the majority of them, and their energy and will to keep fighting is waning. While they still want what is right and good for their older children, they are battle-scarred and just plain weary. They are perhaps disillusioned, and rightly so. It’s difficult to keep standing when you are constantly being knocked down.

The parents I see still advocating strongly are the parents of children in the middle years – third grade through ninth or tenth grade. These parents still feel they can make a difference, can change the course of a bad educational system. And I believe they are right. What we have to figure out though is how to keep the experienced parents still in the battle, and to bring the newer parents, the reinforcements, along a little quicker.

As parents of middle year children, I believe we need to continue our advocacy as we also nurture and support the newer parents and find ways to help the experienced, perhaps jaded parents. Will having to do all that in addition to continuing our own advocacy efforts be tough? Yes, indeed, it will. Will it be worth it? The answer is, in my opinion, a resounding YES.

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