By Reva Schafer

If your child appears to need different learning techniques, you will have to become a "parent advocate".

The education system has a structure that you as a parent can work through to make sure your child‘s special needs are being met. However, it requires that you follow the steps in a persistent manner (sort of like how you completed the adoption process! — steps, paperwork, meetings …).

Here are some suggestions.


• Develop a personal relationship via casual contacts.

• Maintain constant communication (telephone calls, notes, casual meetings) for good news as well as for concerns.

• Make the most of every opportunity to share information to learn more about the child.

• Support one another in the development of learning opportunities.

• Observe, listen, question, provide information, request advice.

• Remember: Everyone has the child's best interests at heart!


• Believes in the child and is realistic about the child's present status and her potential.

• Believes in herself, her ability to achieve what is required, and her ability to persevere.

• Knows the child and has a good understanding of her needs and how they may be met.

• Knows the child's legal rights and responsibilities, the school board's policies and procedures, the school personnel's understanding of the situation, the educational plans, the board's procedures, and resources.

• Identifies unmet needs and/or rights.

• Recognizes key people, his/her allies, and the available resources.

• Recognizes obstacles to achieving what is required—persons, policies, practices, resources.

• Is a good communicator:
a) prepares for meetings, is proactive, systematic and knowledgeable, has the necessary documentation.
b) listens attentively, hears, watches, notes how something is said and what is not said, recognizes family/systemic barriers, understands others' positions.
c) acknowledges what is said.
d) requests clarification and further information.
e) expresses self in an assertive, organized manner.
f) records what is said, when, by whom and the expected follow-up.
g) ensures all parties are equally aware of all the facts, provides information before meetings and provides positive feedback and empathy.
h) encourages others to give their opinions.
i) provides opinions.
j) makes allowances for personal styles.
k) is patient.

• Focuses on a team approach and formulates compromises (win/win solutions).

• Follows up to ensure that all parties have fulfilled their obligations and provides written confirmation of decisions.

• Accepts that advocates are not always popular.

• Recognizes that it is essential to teach the child to learn how to be a self-advocate and then steps back and lets go.


• Recognize, identify and define the problem.

• Commit to solving the problem together.

• Brainstorm and gather all the necessary information to develop a strategy.

• Choose the best strategy based on the child's status, the professional personnel available, the resources available, and contextual variables that may impact on the outcome. Agree on a time frame.

• Implement the strategy. Remember that consistent expectations from home and school are essential.

• Monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy at school and at home.

• Alter the strategy, if required.
Reva Schafer, B.A., M.Ed., of Brampton, Ont. is the mother of two children, a special education teacher and a certified theraplay therapist.



The challenge of school for the adoptee
School issues your child will face
Help your child deal with racism
When birds don't flock together
Should you tell the teacher?
You can give an adoption talk
Language development is key

Learning disabilities

What are learning disabilities?
Detect learning disabilities early
Cope with your child's LD
Brodzinsky on learning disabilities
Do adoptees need special ed classes?
Are LDs inherited?

Special needs

Accept your child's special needs
FAS: Friendly school environments
Helping students with FAS
ADHD and the school system
Manage your ADHD child in school
Strategy for the parent advocate
You may reproduce this item with the credit:
"From Family Helper," ________________________________________
First published in Family Helper No. 45, "Adoption Goes To School", ISBN 0-9733470-4-X. Adapted in part from Post-adoption Helper No. 7, "Adoptive Parents' Guide to Your Child in Primary School", edited by Jennifer Smart.