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How to Advocate for Your Child

By December 23, 2019NESCA Notes 2019

By: Reva Tankle, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

The Federation for Children with Special Needs in Boston offers a Parent Consultant Training course several times every year. I have been privileged to teach this group about Neuropsychological Assessment and the IEP Process for the past 15 years. While many people take this course to become Parent Advocates as a profession, it is just as common that the participants are trying to figure out how to best advocate for their own children.

The process always starts with a concern. Parents request an initial evaluation from either the school or a private clinician because they have a concern about their child’s development. They are looking to understand their child’s challenges, obtain a definitive diagnosis and most importantly develop a treatment plan that will ensure their child’s positive trajectory into the future. What I have learned from the many participants in this course is that they are hungry for information about what they should be doing for their children.

It is encouraging that there are so many resources available for parents to help them with some of these concerns. However, the sheer amount of information can also be overwhelming, as it can be hard to know where to start. And it is important that parents get started right away, as we know there is a great advantage in early diagnosis and intervention; especially when autism is suspected. But where does one start?

  • Assessment/Diagnosis
  • Education
  • Parent Support
  • Advocacy

If you suspect your child may be on the autism spectrum, organizations such as AANE, The Asperger/Autism Network, and Autism Speaks can help you find diagnosticians in your area. Your child’s pediatrician may also be knowledgeable about local referral sources for assessment for suspected learning or developmental issues. Finally, word of mouth referrals from those who have previously navigated the process on behalf of their own child is often another great resource to rely on.

Once there is a diagnosis, parents should educate themselves as much as possible about the needs of their child and the options available. Organizations such as AANE and Autism Speaks can provide a lot of the information parents need at this often stressful time if their child has autism. Of particular benefit, Autism Speaks offers a “100 Day Kit for the Newly Diagnosed Family of Young Children.” This step-by-step guide helps parents feel more in control and confident about how and where to start this journey.

For language-based learning disabilities, parents may find needed resources through organizations such as Decoding Dyslexia or the International Dyslexia Association. Whatever diagnosis a parent is facing on behalf of their child, there are resources to provide the education that is needed.

The internet provides so many resources to parents, which is both a blessing and a curse. How can a parent sort through it all and establish priorities? How do they avoid becoming overwhelmed? Parent Support Groups! It may seem like an overly simple solution, but the benefits of sharing with others who have gone through what you are going through are immeasurable. And not feeling like you are in this alone will give you the confidence to keep going.

Armed with a diagnosis as well as education and support, a parent is ready to advocate as needed. Organizations like the Federation for Children with Special Needs are there to help throughout the advocacy journey. Finally, a strong partnership between the child’s parents and school district is critical to ensure that the district understands the individual child, their unique needs and to know that they will work to provide the appropriate educational opportunities for the child.

It may not be an easy journey to embark on, but know there are wonderful resources out there to help make things smoother.

About the Author

Combining her experience and training in both pediatric neuropsychology and educational advocacy, Dr. Reva Tankle has particular expertise in working with families who are navigating the IEP process. Having participated in numerous team meetings over the years, Dr. Tankle is especially knowledgeable about the many ways that schools can support and accommodate students with special learning needs, information that she clearly communicates in her evaluation reports and in team meetings, if needed. She also has a great deal of experience in articulating the reasons that a student may need a program outside of the public school.

Dr. Tankle evaluates students with ADHD, learning disabilities, high functioning autism spectrum disorders, and neurological conditions, as well as children with complex profiles that are not easily captured by a single diagnostic category.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Reva Tankle in Plainville, MA, or any of our expert neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.