In my first few posts in the Out-of-the-Box Advocacy series, I shared about how using non-traditional advocacy methods like social media, email, and blogging can spark a new conversation about LD beyond your school IEP and 504 plan meetings. Today, I focus on how to create change for kids with LD right in your own backyard.
“Out-of-the-Box Advocacy” is all about finding ways to start conversations about LD in an effort to raise awareness, remove stigma, and encourage others to embrace your child for who they are, despite their disabilities. While starting a blog or tweeting about LD-related topics may seem difficult for some, sometimes the hardest part of advocacy for many parents is actually talking about the realities of LDwithin their very own communities.
There Are No WordsWhy is it so hard to talk openly at school and in your community about the challenges your family is facing due to LD? Why do parents feel the need to keep their family’s struggles with LD to themselves, when we share so many other intimate details about our lives with friends and families?
In my experience, one of the most common reasons parents don’t talk about LD is because we don’t think other people will understand what we’re facing. Another is that we’re afraid others we confide in might “label” our kids without taking the time to learn about and understand their LD and how it affects their ability to perform and engage with friends and teachers at school.
How do parent advocates like us combat this? By doing our part to make sure that the people around us have the opportunity to talk and learn about LD.
It Only Takes OneOnce you start talking about LD and the challenges your children are facing, you may be shocked by how quickly others will feel comfortable in approaching you about similar issues. While having those first few conversations may seem very scary and lonely, be patient. Once I was honest and open with my friends, I quickly learned that a number of them were actually dealing with the same issues with their own kids. It wasn’t until I took a risk and started the dialogue that we all felt free to talk about these topics openly.
And it didn’t stop there. Now, just about every time I’m on my children’s school grounds, at least one mom stops to talk to me about her own child, a recent 504 meeting, or to ask how things are going with my advocacy for my kids.
Once you start the conversation in your community, get ready to keep on having it. I promise you—there are many parents around you just waiting for the opportunity to talk about their kids with LD, too.
Join the ClubOnce I realized how many parents at my school and in my neighborhood were seeking support, quality resources, and understanding about their children’s rights, I decided to start a neighborhood support group. It wasn’t anything fancy. We met once a month over wine and dessert in someone’s home to talk about our kids, answer questions, and point each other to new books or resources we’d found.
The group was diverse—there were parents of children with dyslexia, Asperger’s, Down syndrome, dyscalculia, ADHD, dysgraphia, brain injury and genetic abnormalities. And the astounding part is that we all lived within a couple of miles from each other, and most of our kids attended the same public elementary school. Amazingly, though, most of us had never talked about these topics in depth prior to meeting as a group.
Knowledge Is PowerAs part of our neighborhood group, we began going through the book From Emotions to Advocacy by Pete and Pam Wright. It’s a powerful resource for parents that helps them navigate special education and lays out the steps to embracing and empowering children with disabilities. The book encourages parents to form support groups, which is exactly what we did.
Take It to the StreetsNow that you’ve discovered the power of talking about LD in your community, take it to the next level. Find the local LD support or advocacy groups in your area and get involved! And don’t just join the group—make the most of your advocacy efforts. Volunteer regularly. Help recruit members. Take on a leadership role.
Here are ideas of how to get plugged into LD organizations in your area:
Learning Disabilities Association of America – find your state chapters
Look for LD parent groups meeting in your community center or library
Many private schools that specialize in LD hold regular meetings that parents of children whom do not attend the school can attend. Also, many of these schools have outreach departments tasked with providing services to the community. Contact them.
Your school district’s Council of PTAs or your local PTA’s special education committee
Your school district’s own LD parent education program (some are state-mandated, like in Texas). See how you can get involved to help plan meetings, find speakers, and communicate about the group with parents in your district.
Can’t find a local group? Start one! You can do something that can help change the face of LD in your community.
Speak Up for Kids with LDOne last way to spread the word about LD and other mental health issues is to volunteer to host a “Speak Up for Kids” event in your area. These annual talks sponsored by the Child Mind Institute focus on raising awareness and removing stigma from mental health issues like ADHD, learning disabilities and autism in your community. Learn more about how you can help here.
Lyn Pollard is a freelance writer, parent advocate, and the mother of two kids who learn and play differently. A former journalist and change management consultant, Lyn writes, talks and tweets about advocacy, literacy and safe schools for kids with learning disabilities and special needs. Check out her piece in the New York Times.