How would you answer if, say 10 years from now, your child with learning differences, autism or special needs asked you, "Mom, what exactly did you do to help me?"
As the mother of two kids with differences (my daughter has dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD and my son has high-functioning autism and is gifted at math) here is what I hope will someday make my kids proud:
Understand your child's differences and rights.
Pretty much the moment we receive a diagnosis, parents dive into learning about their child's unique condition, be it due to a developmental delay, congenital condition or the result of an injury.
This is an important, instinctual first step that immediately helps us know what we are facing and what to do next. This may include understanding not only your child's condition, but how to work with your health care provider or insurance company to get your child the care and/or therapy that he or she needs.
The vital second step is to gain a basic understanding of federal and state laws that protect your child with differences.
Make your child's school a safe school for all kids.
For kids to learn and grow, their school must be a place where they feel accepted, accommodated and most of all, safe. Did you know that kids with differences have a greater than 60 percent chance of being bullied on their school campus (according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities)? As parents, we should be involved with keeping schools safe for all kids by knowing our state's bullying laws, and making sure they are being enforced on our campuses.
Ensure everyone on your child's campus understands people with differences.
Talk to your principal about how students and teachers are being educated about learning differences and special needs in your school district and on your child's campus.
Do you have a child with a recognizable disability, like Down syndrome, who shares a mainstream classroom with typical kids? Ask if you can read a book about your child's differences to his or her class at the start of each school year, like the mom of a boy in my daughter's class does each fall.
Encourage your community to promote acceptance.
As I'm often reminding my son, "Observe." Look around you and listen, too. Do parents and other adults in your community use words of acceptance when they talk to or about others? Do they use the R-word or racially derogatory language? Are they actively singling out kids from sports teams who are awkward or clumsy? Or are they inviting the child with autism or Down syndrome to join their team (like my son's coach has done the past two years)?
Align yourself with parents who embrace similar values, and encourage them to help you approach parents who are not modeling appropriate behavior on the field and in the community.
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