Monday, April 18, 2011

Being an Advocate for Your Child by Christine Bryant

Christine Bryant is our guest writer today. Christine has been an incredible advocate for her son, Joshua. Today she shares a bit of her story with us.

Being an Advocate for Your Child
by Christine Bryant

Having a child with autism is a challenge, but it can also be very rewarding. As I watch my son, Joshua, grow into a handsome young man of seventeen—and exceed me in height, I might add—I’m in awe at how far he’s come. Five years ago, he was completely isolated from other kids in middle school. His aggressive behaviors were so severe that the school didn’t feel they could trust him to be with his peers. My take on the situation, however, was this: If you cage a child like a wild animal, he will act like a wild animal.

Being the “mamma bear” mother that I am, I went to work learning state and federal disability laws about inclusion and the fair treatment of kids like Joshua. I started a support group for parents whose children have disabilities and went to a disability conference where I met others with similar concerns and problems.

It was at this conference that I met the Executive Director of Idaho Parents Unlimited, a state and federally funded organization for people with disabilities. We spoke for over an hour about the needs of kids like mine and I learned that my situation was far from unique. Kids all over the country are being isolated because schools don’t know how to—or don’t want to—deal with the children or their problems.

About a month after attending the conference I received a phone call from the Executive Director offering me a position on the board of directors. I eagerly accepted, wanting to take my battle onto a higher playing field. We organized state rallies at the capital, as well as programs and special events. It was a very rewarding experience.

But the best thing I got out of all the hard work and education was the ability to advocate for my son. Walking into a school meeting with the knowledge I needed to fight for my son’s rights was a wonderful feeling. And it worked. Not only was Joshua allowed to interact with other students his age, but he thrived. Yes, he still had some negative behaviors, but they were manageable and the longer he was allowed to participate in normal activities, the better he behaved.

Being an advocate for your child can be a little overwhelming, but regardless of how scary it is, you are the best person for the job. Here are three things you can do to prepare yourself to fight for your child's rights.

1 - Join a support group. If there isn't one in your area, then start one. It's not as hard as you may think. Put up flyers in grocery stores, post office, pediatric and doctor offices, and anyplace you can think of that a parent might frequent. If that doesn't work, seek out an online group that fits your needs.

2 - Learn everything you can about disability laws, especially as they pertain to your child's needs. Your state board of education will provide free copies of state laws either online or by mail. Also request a copy of the ADA guidelines. Ask other parents to share their experiences and learn from them. Attend special education conferences sponsored by disability advocacy groups like Idaho Parents Unlimited.

3 - Don't attend school meetings alone. It's your right to take anyone you want to a meeting where your child's special education program will be discussed. If you don't have a service coordinator, get one and make sure she attends. Invite service providers that your child sees outside the school setting, a more experienced parent from your support group, or a close friend who may have insight into your child's needs. If you still don't feel like you're being heard and your child's needs are being met, don't be afraid to involve a state provided mediator or an attorney. Do NOT let the school officials intimidate you. Stand your ground, but do it in a calm and organized manner with the laws on your side.

You CAN do this. It may take some time and the results may not be immediate, but if you're persistent you will see results.

As a junior in high school, Joshua’s become an important member of the student body. This past month he was one of three boys nominated as prince for the Junior/Senior Prom. Imagine my pride when I first caught sight of him in his tuxedo, ready to escort his date to the dance. He’s come so far. He is no longer that scared little boy locked in a cage; he is free to live his life. No limits. No one is holding him back anymore. And before him? A future filled with great expectations and hope.


Thank you so much Christine!
To learn more about Christine Bryant, visit her blog Day Dreamer.

10 comments:

C. K. Bryant said...

I'm honored to be a part of your blog today. Thanks for having me.

HUGS

Jordan McCollum said...

What an inspiring story, Christine! I hope to be as good of an advocate for my children, and what great success this has been for Joshua.

Lynn Parsons said...

Awesome! It's also difficult to go from being your child's advocate to the "guide on the side" as he learns to advocate for himself! And parents need to beware of those who want to charge for their "expertise". Especially when they're not qualified. Breaks my heart when I hear parents talking about the money they've spent on things that won't help their kids.

Jenn Wilks said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Christine! What a great mama bear you are!!

And, Danyelle, I'll definitely be getting myself a copy of your book. How great that you're giving away copies to be donated. I'll have to give some thought to who I'll choose to receive the free copy if my name is chosen.
<3

Angie said...

You're an inspiration, Christine! I love the prom picture.

Rebecca Shelley said...

That's wonderful, Christine. I've seen my sister fighting this same battle with the schools about her own son. Can't believe they actually slapped him in handcuffs one day, simply because they thought it was the easiest way to deal with him. Like that's going to help him behave better at school.

Anyway, thanks for the great article.

ali said...

Aw! What a great picture! And what an awesome story, Christine. What I think is so amazing about it is that sometimes what seems like the impossible is really just the fuel you needed to be incredible.

Josh is incredible ~ and so are you!

Tristi Pinkston said...

You go, Mama Bear! Children are blessed to have mothers who will fight for them, and Josh is blessed to have you.

Chantele Sedgwick said...

What an amazing story Christine. Joshua is so blessed to have you as a mother, and I'm sure you are so thankful you can be his mother as well. Great post. :)

C. K. Bryant said...

Thanks everyone. Your comments have lifted my spirits and given me the boost I needed today. HUGS

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