Recently, my wife and I were invited to speak at a Family Retreat Weekend in Austin, Texas that was sponsored by the Texas School for the Deaf (TSD). Specifically, we were asked to speak to parents about our experiences as the parents of a deaf child who has additional needs. We titled our discussion The Importance of Parent Involvement in Your (Deaf) Child’s Education.
While our talk catered to parents of deaf children, the main points apply to any parent: you must be involved in your child’s education in order for him/her to have the greatest chance of success. We started out by talking about all of our children. My oldest child is deaf and has cerebral palsy. In addition, three years ago, we adopted two additional children who developmentally were well behind their peers. Despite their various challenges, we explained that we expect all of our children to do their best and we demand the same from ourselves as parents and their schools to help them achieve their highest potential. Our talk centered around four key recommendations that we used to gain the maximum educational benefit for our children.
1) Seek Wisdom
Soon after our oldest daughter’s diagnosis, we were told of certain benefits that we were entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Since we didn’t know anyone who had a child with similar circumstances, we were unfamiliar with our rights under the law. When she started school, we were introduced to a totally new concept (well, new to us) called the Individual Education Plan (IEP), and we were lost. We didn’t know what the school was responsible for nor did we know the questions to ask. We were fortunate enough to connect with schools, other parents, state legislators, and medical benefits coordinators who were kind enough to explain the purpose of the IEP as well as other avenues of support that were available to us. By doing a little research, we could now be better advocates for our child.
2) Expect the Best
We said that when it comes to education, it is important that all three elements (parents, the school, and the child) work together to achieve success in the classroom. We constantly tell our children that they can achieve anything that they want in life as long as they are willing to work for it but that the foundation for achieving greatness starts with a good education. We ensure that our children go to school and are prepared for class; we expect our children to do their best, and we expect the school to give their best effort and to make resources that are at their disposal available to help our children maximize their potential.
We emphasized the importance of communication. We are in constant contact with all of our children’s schools regarding their progress. We not only monitor their assignments and grades but also their overall learning environment. We are not “Helicopter Parents” (where we are always hovering over our kids) but we do monitor their activities and are ready to step in if things start to go astray. We also take the time to talk with each child to find out directly from them what is going on in their lives. This may seem like something that would be fairly obvious but based on the feedback that we received, these things are not always obvious. Also, as hearing parents of a deaf child, we explained that it is critical to be able to communicate directly with your child. It may seem small but taking the time to learn sign language has done wonders for our relationship with our oldest child. We are not experts in American Sign Language (ASL) but as a family, we can communicate and that is all that matters.
4) Show Up
Every school year, we make appointments to meet all of our children’s teachers. By establishing that relationship up front at the beginning of each year, the teachers know that we are actively involved in our children’s education. In addition, we also work on special committees and support funding requests (unlike most school districts, TSD is allocated funding through the Texas State Legislature as part of the state budgeting process) to make the school even more successful. By doing this, each school understands that we are making every effort to help the school and our children in particular so they are more than willing to make an extra effort to help our children maximize their potential. In the end, the winners are our children and that is really what matters.
Our discussion was all about sharing our experiences in order for parents to become better advocates for their children. We shared the benefits not only from our perspective, but from our children as well. Our oldest daughter is preparing for her senior year in high school and is looking forward to attending college while our two younger children are preparing for another year of middle school and we can see that they are capable of achieving great things as well. As a parent, I can receive no greater satisfaction than that.
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