Congratulations! You are the parent of a wonderful child, and, among many other wonderful traits, your child happens to have a hearing loss. Now, on top of running to school events, work, and other family obligations, you have also earned yourself a new job title: ADVOCATE.
For some parents, advocacy comes naturally. Sometimes, these are the parents who were already assertive (note: not aggressive, assertive — there’s a difference!) and outspoken before becoming parents of a child who was deaf or hard-of-hearing — but not always! Quiet, reserved parents may be natural advocates, too — so don’t assume anything, because parents may surprise you. For other parents, though, becoming an advocate is a difficult journey. Regardless of how you feel about being an advocate, if you don’t do it, nobody else will, and your child will suffer the consequences. Most importantly, from watching you advocate for your child’s needs and rights, your child will gain valuable skills so that someday he will be able to advocate for himself. And isn’t that the goal — to raise confident, self-assured children who are proud of who they are and unafraid to advocate for themselves and their needs, hearing-loss-related or otherwise? I think so!
“So, great. I get it. Be an advocate. Super. But HOW???”
In their book, The Hearing-Impaired Child (1992), Maxon and Brackett suggest:
Avoid criticizing a program or the professionals in it. Parents will receive greater acceptance if they discuss areas in which programs differ and stress the necessity of particular items for their child. (Instead of saying what’s WRONG with the program/service you don’t want, highlight the aspects of the desired program that you cannot get in the undesirable option. For example, “Anthony needs services from a qualified Listening and Spoken Language Specialist. The district’s preschool for children with communication delays does not have a LSLS Cert. AVT/Ed on staff to provide these. The AVT center does.”)
Identify those issues for which there is no compromise [… parents can] avoid a stalemate if they are prepared to compromise on issues that can be modified without jeopardizing the integrity of the [child’s educational] program. (“We would be thrilled to have Maria placed in any of the four mainstream first-grade classrooms. However, whatever classroom she is in will require acoustic treatments and a soundfield system to ensure that she has access to all of the same auditory information as her hearing peers.”)
Present the child in a positive light […] stress what the child can offer the class, rather than what the program needs to do for the child. (“Jesse makes friends easily and is not shy about introducing himself. I know he will make many new friends in kindergarten. He plays so nicely with other children his age.”)
If [your child] has extensive “special” needs, then a classroom teacher who has never worked with hearing-impaired children will [Elizabeth’s note: I would prefer to say, “may” here] be quick to suggest an alternative placement […] indicate that the classroom teacher is not solely responsible for the child. (“Mrs. Smith, I know that having Claudia in your classroom may seem a bit intimidating — she certainly comes with a few more wires than your average preschooler! However, her skills are on par with her hearing peers, and we are committed to helping you help her succeed. A teacher from her oral preschool will come to consult with you in the classroom, and her mother and I will be happy to answer your questions at any time throughout the school year.”)
Hands and Voices also provides an excellent resource that I like to call “IEP Whack-A-Mole”. This interactive module, available HERE on their website, presents school districts’ common IEP objections, and gives parents a script (complete with the legal reasoning and support behind it) to use to make the case for the services they desire for their child.
AG Bell also has a wonderful Children’s Legal Advocacy program that is part of an entire “ADVOCACY” tab (see the menu on the left of the homepage) that includes a section onEducational Advocacy, among other things.