Saturday, July 5, 2008

Advocacy 101

Ah what we, parents of disabled children, could teach lawyers about this topic. Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Be passionate about what you are trying to do. Always stick up for your child.
2. Persevere at all costs.
3. Insist on being present in all dialogues that will result in a change or addition to your child’s support.
4. Participate in these dialogues no matter how scared and upset you are.
5. Investigate and research your child’s rights in the situation
6. Know exactly what the discussion is about and know what you are prepared to accept.
7. Have a strategy and be spontaneous
8. Always be polite, calm and cool no matter what you feel inside.
9. Have an ally and when possible be prepared to add a dash of humor. Laughter is very important because only a healthy, positive and humane person will laugh with you. You need people like this in your life to get done what needs to get done.
Sometimes it reminds people they ARE human.

In this example I'll refere back to these points.
My ally, my child’s teacher, got wind of a meeting the school board and school were having to discuss my sons future form of school transportation (#9). He was moving up to Middle School and they were going to insist on using public transportation. I was horrified at how ludicrous this was.
I contacted the school and calmly asked to be included in this dialogue (#3, #8).
I nervously sat down to the table and wondered if all lawyers feel this way before going to court with a new case (#2). I next asked the board if they would please share their plans for my child’s future (#3).
They wanted my child to take a city bus, loaded with strangers (my internal side comment), to and from school every day. I politely listened while they explained their decision based on budgets.
I sat and waited till the Superintendent of Transportation looked at me questioningly and asked if I cared to comment.
I loved my child’s teacher. She was SO good at following my cue. Imagine two little old ladies having tea together and discussion something they thought was important but had a humorous side to it (#9). As we chatted, the rest of the group melted away. We had a jolly time. (#7)
I turned to face my ally.
“Bev can you just imagine? This whole idea is based on the premise that I can even GET him on the bus!” I started with my eyes sparkling (#5, #9).
My ally nodded with a smile, “Oh yes! Even if you can GET him on the bus.”
“After a lot of coaxing, he boards the bus.” The sparkle in my eyes moved to my mouth. “And THEN – poof - he spies something out the window, rings the bell and gets off the bus to check it out. By this time my speech is interspersed with a few giggles. (#9)
“Oh yes I can see him doing that. And then how will we know where he got off?” she bursts out with a giggle. And the story grew from there.
Finally I paused and took a deep breath. I turned to the Superintendent, the laughter gone from my face and voice, and asked (#1), “How long would it be before you noticed he never made it to school? Where would you even begin to look for him? What on earth would you tell me?” I then deepened my voice to pretend it was him, “Uhm, Mam, I’ve called to tell you we seem to have lost your son.” (#5)
He had taken a breath to speak and I put up my hand to stop him.
“Can you imagine the legal issues you would find yourself in and just how much it would cost?” (#5, #6) I paused and looked each person in the eyes.
The whole group sat dumbfounded by the turn the conversation had taken.
With the breath he had been holding, the Superintendent looked at me in a resigned manner and mumbled back, “ Uhm, Mam. You’ve made your point quite clearly. I guess he’s not ready for this.”
Shortest, successful meeting, I’ve ever attended.

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