Parents of special needs children play many roles. Some roles come naturally to them while others take time to learn. One role is being an advocate. The more involved a parent becomes in their child’s education, in securing adequate health care, and in planning for the future, the more advocating they may tend to do. It may take time to perfect, but being an advocate is important.
The longer I advocate for my son, the more I learn. The more people I get to meet, too. Some of those people are fellow parents while others are just kind souls who want to help moms like me. I’ve met more than a few kind souls on this journey. They help inspire me to continue to work hard for my child. I shared a few advocating ideas that I learned from others 2 years ago this week. I thought about a few more to add for 2018.
From being an armchair advocate to being the person willing to pound the pavement, there are tons of ways to advocate for kids with special needs. Depending on your level of comfort, this short list of suggestions can be started as early as today. And don’t think that these ideas are just for special parents. Siblings, grandparents, teachers, therapists, neighbors – anyone can become an advocate!
1 Join a mailing list – Autism Action Network and National Vaccine Information Center make it easy to be in the know. Cruise their websites to learn what their missions are and to see how you can help.
Ready to take it a step further? Once you catch up on the latest news, consider contacting your representatives about issues that will affect special needs parents, like parental rights. If an issue is near and dear to you, think about getting some facetime with your Rep. Not comfortable speaking up yet? Attend a legislative session, a town hall meeting, or a public forum. Even if you don’t speak up, because speaking up can be nerve wracking, be present. There is strength in numbers.
2 Host a movie night – I am a movie documentary junkie. I love to watch them because I love to learn! I also love to share what I have discovered with others. If you love to learn also, consider hosting a movie night with friends. Invite the ones who have shown interest in what you’ve shared about your child, their autism, their vaccine injury, or about dietary changes or protocols you’ve used. Think about inviting your skeptical friends, too. Maybe hearing the information from a different source will open their mind and lead to new conversations. Need some movie suggestions? Here are just a few: Trace Amounts, Greater Good, Bought, Vaxxed, Forks Over Knives, and Fed Up.
Ready to take it a step further? Host a movie night at a local public library – reserve or rent one of their conference rooms. Reach out to producers of the film and ask if you can do a short A and A via Skype before/after the event. If you have the means, donate a copy of the movie to the library, the nearest university library, the special needs department in your district, or to the neighbor who needs a reminder that your child isn’t intentionally being difficult like they believe he or she is.
3 Sponsor a child – Some people want to physically help a child but don’t know where to start. Start local. Look around. Is there a child on your street or in your neighborhood that could use an extra pair of hands? Find out, and then reach out, and know that when you sponsor a child, you also get to sponsor their family, too. Therapy is expensive. Biomedical treatment is as well. Offer to help pay for an out-of-pocket expense. Pick up lunch or take-out for dinner. If mom or dad has to keep eyes and ears on their child 24/7, think about what you can do outside the home. Are there simple house repairs that need to be done? Could you help with some gardening? Could the car need a vacuuming? Those tasks can end up at the bottom of a parents’ To Do list. Helping mom or dad cross one of those tasks off their list while they tend 100% to their child could be 100% appreciated.
Ready to take it a step further? Want to help a child but don’t know someone personally? Check out groups like Documenting Hope. They are gearing up to help some families very soon. Other groups, like Generation Rescue and Talk About Curing Autism, have established events and grants. Very helpful and working directly with families, think about becoming an active and on-going contributor to their programs. That kind of support has the potential to bless many children as well as many families!
4 Sponsor a parent – It sounds silly, I know, but some parents are tired. Some are overwhelmed. Quite a few are overworked, and too many desperately need a break. Find out what you can do to provide respite for a parent. It could it be as easy as returning their trash cans from the curb, picking up the typical siblings from an afterschool activity, or stopping in just to say hello. If you’re religious, light a candle or add a prayer request in your parish or church community for that parent’s specific needs. Spiritual support, as well as physical and emotional support, can go a long way.
Ready to take it a step further? Put yourself exactly in a special needs parents’ shoes. Observe them. Be with them. Follow their lead, and work alongside them. Being present with and for that tired mom or overwhelmed father can make things different, better, and more bearable. The isolation from the rest of the world that many parents experience can be brutal. So, ask. Ask if they need help. If they say yes, ask if it can be you that helps them. It never hurts to ask.
Parents have fought for rights and have worked tirelessly to support the lost and forgotten. I’m proud of the work and the advocating that other parents here have done over the years. It’s taken a group effort to make our children’s presence and needs known. We know that one voice reaches a few, but a lot of voices can reach many. Working together helps make our voices be heard. If you are aching to join us, pick one of those suggestion above today. If you’re already advocating and have a different idea to share, please list it in the comments section below. We’d love to hear how you’re going to help others in 2018.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.