I find it slightly amusing to be invited to write an “expert” blog. It has been more than 30 years since a psychologist put labels on the concerns I had about my son, and I vividly remember the strong emotions that experience triggered in me. That day my vision for the future certainly didn’t include me being called an expert, nor did I expect my son with LD to grow up to outperform the predictions made by the professionals. So my first piece of “expert” advice to parents – especially as they face a new school year -- is: Never underestimate your child or yourself!
In reality, you are the expert on your child. As such, you should strive to become your child’s best advocate by identifying trusted resources and information, and developing the necessary knowledge and skills. If that sounds intimidating, think of it this way: You don’t need to know all the answers; you just need to ask the right questions!
You’ve already made a good decision by turning to LD.org for information. I also suggest that you connect with your state’s Parent Training and Information Center (PTI). Each state has at least one PTI funded by the U.S. Department of Education to provide information to families of children with disabilities. Some states also have Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRC) which serve certain communities. To find the name and contact information of the parent center(s) in your state visit parentcenternetwork.org.
The PTI offers a variety of free information and training opportunities to help you advocate for your child. For example, you can learn how to effectively participate in the process of developing your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 Plan, addressing specific issues such as behavior and planning for your child’s future. They can also help you develop the skills needed to navigate through the school and special education systems and collaborate or negotiate with educators and other professionals to ensure that your child is receiving appropriate services. Educators are also welcome to use PTI as a resource, so don’t hesitate to recommend it to your child’s teachers if you think it might strengthen their understanding of your child’s issues.
Contact your PTI by telephone, email, or through the website to get on their mailing list and identify what services might be most useful to you. Don’t wait until you have a serious problem on your hands before making that first contact to ask questions or attend a workshop. It pays to educate yourself in advance, since knowledge often prevents small issues from becoming big problems.
You prepare your child for the new school year by reading books from the summer reading list, providing learning opportunities throughout the summer, buying new supplies, and reinforcing a positive attitude about school. Start now to prepare yourself to be your child’s best advocate!
Connie Hawkins is executive director for the Exceptional Children's Assistance Center (ECAC), a federally funded Parent Training & Information Center in North Carolina. For over 20 years, Connie has managed PTI offices throughout North Carolina. In 2004 she received the Distinguished Service Award from the Public Schools of North Carolina for her outstanding contribution to the lives of students with disabilities.