July 12, 2024
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Advocacy: The Topic Nobody Wants to Discuss

Both of us are parents and have children in a wide variety of ages from preschool through elementary and high school, even college and post-college. Additionally, we have been pediatric therapists for over 20 years each. So when we have specific issues that arise repeatedly over more than two decades on both a personal level and professional one, it bears discussion.

This topic is a little scary, since it places a huge burden on parents. Now, we know what you’re thinking: “Don’t we already have enough burdens as parents?!” Well, you know what? You want to raise healthy, well-adjusted children who develop at their maximal rate? Then we have to have this discussion. And here’s the scary word that nobody wants to discuss….advocacy.

As parents, we are our children’s number-one advocate. Many of us have learned the hard way that we have to advocate for our children in their school. Some parents are still learning about the proper way to advocate. For example, it should seem obvious that you don’t want to burn bridges. It should seem obvious that you want to work with the teachers and administration in a polite and cooperative manner so that they want to work with you and give their all to your child. Many parents do not realize the value of demonstrating hakarat hatov to their children’s schools when approaching them with concerns about their children. A little polite appreciation goes a long way.

But this column is about more than just advocating for our children in school. One of the greatest concerns that we have is when we have a family that comes to our center and has been given advice by another healthcare specialist that they might not have agreed with or that they may have misunderstood. Sometimes it can be a physician or other healthcare provider who has told a parent to wait and see if their child grows out of a particular developmental problem or if they are merely developing at a slower rate than their peers and will catch up. Now, in many cases, this may be true. However, research has shown over the past couple of decades the value of early intervention. This is true for all areas of developmental delays. The earlier a child begins receiving remediation, such as therapy, special education or another type of intervention, the greater chance there is that the child will respond to the intervention and develop maximally.

So, let’s set this up. You are a parent who has had some concerns about your child’s development in various areas for some time. Your toddler might be clumsier than most other children. He might be difficult to understand and has difficulty having his needs met, which may lead to frustration and long, drawn-out tantrums. You might find that your child only eats a few types of food, flavors, textures, temperatures. Maybe your child is very shy or very sensitive to noise or refuses to wear clothing. These are all issues that may be normal and typical but they also may not. If you are a parent and you are concerned about your child’s development, speak up. Ask your pediatrician. Our pediatricians are our first line in the world of development. It is very likely that your pediatrician will be able to help put your mind at ease or make a recommendation for a specialist. But, if your pediatrician’s reply does not sit well with you, by all means—politely and respectfully request names of specialists. There is no one provider who knows everything about everything.

Another point to consider is that most of us in the healthcare industry understand when a concerned patient or their parents feel the need to seek out a second opinion. We do not take it personally, are not offended and most of us appreciate when our families are educated regarding the health care and developmental needs of their children. This all comes back to our original point that you are your child’s advocate. Remember that you are taking your child to medical or developmental specialists, even experts. But YOU are the expert in your child. You know your child best and, therefore, you must be comfortable that you have explored all options and are getting the answers that feel right to you.

So, whether you are advocating for your child with an educational specialist, such as a teacher or administrator, or you are advocating with a medical specialist, such as a doctor or therapist, remain strong in your convictions, polite and appreciative and remember that, above all, you are your child’s advocate.

By Alyssa Colton MA, OTR and Aviva Lipner MA, OTR

Alyssa & Aviva are occupational therapists, sisters and owners of Kids’ Therapy Place, LLC, an occupational therapy center for children. They encourage questions and comments at [email protected] and find them at www.kidstplace.com.

 

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