Being your child's best advocate starts the day they were born. When you discover your child has special needs, your parenting goes to a whole other level. You start to consume information that you never even knew existed before. You are a sponge and you are taking everything in. The good and the bad. Having a brother with Down syndrome means that I've been in the special needs community my entire life. I was the special needs sibling that listened to and watched everything going on around me, especially when the moms were talking. I can tell you that the conversations from 30 years ago have not changed much when it comes to moms talking about special education and how to get a better education for their child. After being a special education teacher and working as an IEP advocate for the past 20 years, here's what I can tell you... There are (at least) 3 things you have to UNLEARN if you are going to be your child's best advocate. FIRST: SMART GOALS = PROGRESS Special needs parents know all about creating SMART goals. You've done your homework on what a Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Reasonable, Timely goals can do for your child. There's absolutely NOTHING wrong with your child having SMART goals, but the goals themselves, even when written perfect are not going to guarantee progress for your child. When my clients come to me with goals that are a hot mess, we absolutely look for ways to improve the IEP goals. We want to make sure it is very clear, written in understandable language, where the child is at, where they are going, how they are going to get there and how we are going to track progress. Sometimes this results in a picture perfect SMART goal and sometimes it doesn't. Which means then I have a choice. I can help the parent argue how the goal is written or I can teach the parent how to collaborate with the team to get all the pieces of a SMART goal done without insulting the team that they don't know how to write goals. A lot of times its the "specific" piece of the goal that is missing. The goal will tell us that the child is going to learn 30 new words, but I have no idea what that means. So in the notes section of the IEP, we get the conversation journaled that the words the child is going to learn is from a specific reading series that they are learning and they will be starting level 2 words, AND a list of the words will be sent home with the child every week. Ah, now we are specific in what is happening... and it happened through a positive conversation vs telling the staff that they don't know how to write SMART goals. (Yes, even if you have never written or said those exact words about "SMART" goals to your child's teacher... some parent has said that to them in the past or will in the future.) SECOND: Trial and Error is BAD You've done your research and you know what the best program for your child will be so they can make the most progress in the smallest amount of time. Hmmm.... that's not really what happens in school. That's more of a tutoring type of approach. In fact, that doesn't happen for gen ed kids. It's not how the system is set up. Some trial and error needs to happen in your child's education. I'm not talking about wasting months or years without any documented progress. I'm talking about setting up guidelines to see if an approach is going to work, especially when you don't think it will. Testing something out for 4, 6, or 8 weeks is not going to waste your child's education. In fact, if the trial of a skill, tool, approach, curriculum is done correctly, you will learn a lot of things, even if it fails. You should learn why it fails so you don't have to repeat the failure again. The key here is that there has to be timelines and there CANNOT be excuses. Trial and Error is a necessary process for some skills and executive functioning skills is one of those. Let's say you are setting up a new organization system for your child. Their folders are color coded, they have new checklists and the team has agreed on how to prompt your child through the process. You will all meet back in 6 weeks to see if the new system is working and if your child is more independent in the work flow process. Six weeks goes by and when you sit down at the table the team should be confident. Yes, it works, and they can show you the data. No, it doesn't work, and they can show you the data. What should NOT happen is the team making excuses on why it may or may not work and they don't really know because it wasn't quite implemented they way it should've been. This happens a lot. Then the team agrees to try for another 6 weeks. Next thing you know, this process repeats itself and the entire year slips by and your child's organization skills are still a hot mess. That is trial and error gone wrong and after the first sit down, something should have changed drastically. The system that was set up for trial and error failed because it could not be implemented and changes should have been made before trying again. That's why trial and error gets a bad rap. It goes on for too long, with no accountability and months or years get wasted. Don't let that happen, but do consider the trial and error approach to help you reach compromises with the team. Just don't forget the deadlines. THIRD: You HAVE to Be THAT Mom You've been to the coffee talks, parent support group meetings and you've read too many parent posts online. You know exactly what you have to do to get your child's team to listen... you have to pull out all the stops and be THAT mom. Being “that mom” when you are advocating for your child happens, but being “that mom” does not have to be a negative. In fact, one of my favorite things I love to do is to help people become “THE mom” vs “that mom”. That Mom: People run the other way because they know you are going to push for your child to get what they need. THE Mom: People stand still and wait. What are you going to ask for? How are you going to request everyone works together. What solutions are you're bringing to the table. That Mom: People shut down and you have to push harder to get results. THE Mom: People listen even though they don’t always like what you have to say. That Mom: People are ready to say no before you even get started. THE Mom: People are open to saying yes or at least “let’s try”. Don't ever think you are too far down the path of a broken team? Your label of That Mom is permanent…not true. If you are proud of being That Mom and you just don’t care what people think, That’s ok too…but after 20 years of experience…I can tell you that switching your role from THAT mom to THE mom helps your child more than you can imagine. Being THAT mom is exhausting… It’s time to become THE mom, lead your child’s IEP team & get your life back. To be your child's best advocate, you have to be the best version of you. This means speaking from your heart, having knowledgeable information to help the IEP team understand your child's unique needs and respecting the expertise at the table, even when you disagree. Unlearning the bad habits of advocacy that is happening all around you and mastering the art of getting what your child need without causing destruction around you doesn't have to be overwhelming. Ready to take the next step to figure this all out... JOIN ME in the Special Needs Education Help Center and never advocate alone again.