How & When to Advocate For Your Child

You can advocate for your child and still be a nice person.

How & When to Advocate For Your Child

advocating for your child
It's no surprise that the word advocate comes from the French avocat which, in my rusty bilingual brain, translates as "lawyer." There are times in your child's life when you have to step up to the bench and become their defense attorney. But you can stand up for your child's rights - and you must - without becoming an asshole of the grandest kind.
Contrary to popular belief, you can be an advocate while simultaneously remaining a Nice Person.
I'm generally a Nice Person, too, until the moment my son's needs are compromised. Until your kid is wronged or overlooked in some way, you have no idea how fiercely your mama bear self will react. Whether it's a major incident or some minor trifle, your child does need to you to "fight" on their behalf until they are mature enough to do so of their own accord.
For some kids, sadly, that day never comes. Those with developmental disorders like autism may need you to advocate for them until your last dying breath. So it's important to learn the art of advocacy early and to practice it effectively.
Sometimes the trajectory will run smoothly. Your child will be surrounded by caring, supportive people. Other times - when you least expect it - your back will get up. Case in point. This summer I signed my son up to a new integrated camp with a 1:1 support worker. The camp manager was attentive and organized. She held an advance meeting to get to know my son and vice-versa. She had a detailed list of of his needs and best practices in place. So far, so yay.
Except then the camp actually started. Turns out, instead of participating in the scheduled activities with other campers, my son mostly wandered off with the support worker and did whatever he felt like doing.


If I hadn't paid attention or stayed involved, I wouldn't have figured out what was going on. (Though he can speak, my son can't always communicate.) Some programs have reporting methods in place. Other times, you'll need to set up your own. A little detective work goes a long way. I pieced together a picture of what was, and wasn't, happening at camp. And needless to say, I wasn't thrilled.


It's crucial not to jump the gun. Knee-jerk reactions tend to come from the heart, not the cooled head. Come up for air. Jot down some points. Don't pick up the phone. And whatever you do, don't hit "send" until you've waited at least a full hour and run the scenario past at least one other (preferably objective) person.

Mind your manners

When you are ready for confrontation, make sure to present the situation in the most objective, least accusatory language possible. Invite clarification and confirmation. Don't rip anyone a new one. Use a positive, affirming tone that suggests you are all part of the same team. I know, I know. In your head, you may be screaming REDRUM, but keeping your inner Jack Nicholson bound and gagged is a must.

Be Concise

Don't open the floodgates. Stick to the facts as you know them, and avoid dredging up what happened last month or last year. Trust me on this. While it seems antithetical and somehow censorious, being adversarial will not get you the outcome you want - and in fact, may actually hurt your child in the long run. I don't particularly care about winning friends, but I do care about how people treat my son and the relationships he has with any teacher/care giver/therapist/parent in the foreseeable future. 
So back to camp... I voiced my concerns with the manager in a painstakingly polite yet assertive message. (For me, email is a good way to collect and order my thoughts at least initially.) Later, I met the support worker for some friendly face-time. I could have been nasty. I could have been sarcastic. But there was no really need. I kept the focus on my son, and how to give him the best camp experience possible.
The last thing I want to see is my child messed around by some bully, so it's nice to know I don't need to become one in order to help him thrive.

 RELATED: Want To Help Your Child With Autism? Look Through This Lens

Image: Honza Soukup