Parent Teacher Advocacy for Neurodiverse Learners
Be kind and clear, not pushy when advocating with your neurodiverse chid's teacher.
By Deborah Reber, author of Differently Wired
Bari, a powerful champion for neurodiverse learners at her children's school, compares her advocacy efforts with high-level school administrators to running for office: "I've called for meetings with the superintendents of the school district to say things like "These are things we need to think about' or "These are opportunities for our district to lead.' But it's been a struggle. You know, navigating at that level feels very political. There's a lot of smiling and head nodding and things like that."
Unfortunately, the parent-teacher relationship can sometimes feel adversarial, especially in circumstances where we realize our child isn't being successful and we're having a hard time figuring out how to improve things. But though it can sometimes seem as if educators are working against us, the vast majority do what they do because they love kids and truly want our children to thrive.
I asked Becca Wertheim, a second-grade teacher who is used to teaching differently wired kids in her inclusive classroom in a charter school, how parents can best navigate this sometimes tricky relationship with their child's teacher, especially in situations where the parent has to play a strong advocacy role. Becca suggests we commit to keeping the lines of communication open and work to foster a relationship based on respect and honesty. "We have to work together as a team in order for that child to show growth. And the only way for us to work successfully as a team is to build those relationships. There have been times where parents will have questions or maybe we'll both have a question about something, so I'll reach out to support staff at school to try to find the answer, while parents may try to find an answer outside of school by doing a different kind of research. And then we get back together and discuss what we found and find a common ground of what's best."
Though the parent-teacher dynamic isn't always as collaborative as Becca describes, it's an ideal worth striving for, and not just with teachers, but with coaches, counselors, and anyone else who works with our children. After all, these people want to do right by our kids, but they may not know how. Asking for what we know our children need in a way that's kind, clear, and respectful not only benefits our children, but educates others about how atypical kids can best be supported in general.