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Terri Mauro

Passing the Advocacy Baton

By May 27, 2010

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Passing the BatonDoes advocacy have an "off" switch?

If it does, I need to find it, because my daughter is going to college next fall and everyone tells me she's going to have to be her own advocate. No more conferencing with teachers and networking with staff and negotiating accommodations for you, Mom! No more IEPs or packets of information for professors. Time for the girl to grow up and do it for herself.

Well, okay. Can't say I'll miss those IEP showdowns. It's nice to think that at the stroke of age 18 or at the hand-off of a diploma, a young person who's needed intensive intervention and coordination between home and school will suddenly get hit by the advocacy stick and be able to speak up for herself. Hey, that language disability that's kept her tongue-tied and timid since childhood? No problem! Speak on up, hon.

An MSNBC article earlier this week, chastising parents who become over-involved in their adult children's job searches, reminded me that just hitting the snooze alarm on my advocacy and waking it back up after college won't do. Apparently, it's not okay for parents to come along on job interviews or call employers to negotiate salaries. I'd like to think I'd be a little more subtle than the parents profiled, but c'mon. Fighting to have my kids' capabilities recognized has become a way of life for me. I'm supposed to stop doing that when it's only their ability to earn a living at stake?

I do think the advocacy I've done in the past -- including pushing her into inclusion and forcing her to stick with things like the high-school marching band -- has made my daughter more able to stand up for herself that she would otherwise have been. Throughout high school, there have been more and more incidents where my interference just made things worse, and though she doesn't always handle things the way I would, she handles them. More and more, I'm finding that I can coach her from the sidelines and let her carry the ball.

Still, for a parent who's been energetically involved throughout a child's schooling, it's a steep drop from team member to tuition-payer, from expert to excess baggage. If you have a child who's made this transition, how (and how much) did you let go? Share your experience in the comments.

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May 27, 2010 at 4:26 pm
(1) Pamela Wilson says:

Mainstream kids entering college would benefit from parents taking more interest in their activities and decisions – it is a time of tremendous difficulties, heartbreak, depression and peer influence that can only be moderated by adult family members with their best interests at heart.

Helping my daughter to move into university freshman dorms and accompanying my son on campus at our local community colleges, I have met too many lost and lonely teens and young adults who have been more than grateful for the interest of a stranger who could have been their moms.

The rates of depression and risk taking behavior among college students are high enough that we do not need to apologize for staying connected and involved in our sons’ and daughters’ lives.

As for being ‘over-involved’ in their job searches – a high percentage of college grads are moving back in with their parents, and there is almost unbearable stress in being unemployed or underemployed for long stretches in this economy. Parents are definitely an important part of mainstream young adults’ job-finding network – and most young adults with disabilities I know who have jobs have their moms to thank for turning up leads and making introductions – underpaid and overworked job coaches may do their best but parents turn over every rock to help their sons and daughters find success in their adult lives.

Maybe it’s just me… A special ed administrator in our school district explained to me that parents needed to ‘take a step back’ from advocating when children enter kindergarten from special ed preschool, so they could take more responsibility for their behavior and education.


May 28, 2010 at 1:49 pm
(2) sylrayj says:

When our kids are little, and everyone is talking about other children their age meeting milestones, we’re noticing that our kids hit some, and miss some, and we’re there to help them be able to (maybe) meet the milestones when they’re ready. We learn that changes like these happen as our children are able to meet the milestones, not by the average child’s timeline.

It would be nice if my son, who’s being shuffled off to junior high in a different neighbourhood, could advocate for himself. It’s going to be difficult to get there, and I simply won’t have the convenience of being able to stroll in to chat for a few minutes. However, I know my boy. He doesn’t talk with his current teacher when he has trouble with classes, and this teacher is the best one we’ve had so far.

I wouldn’t toss my son into the deep end of a swimming pool unless I knew he had the relevant skills. While I will do my best to help him be ready to be his own advocate, I won’t let him drown in this, either.

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