By: Lyn Pollard, Parent Contributor,

Published Date: March 27, 2013 4:28 PM

Throughout the Out-of-the-Box Advocacy series, I’ve shared my top tips for how parents can put their advocacy efforts to work outside of their child’s IEP and 504 Plan meetings. Today, I’ll wrap up the series (for now!) by focusing on how to make a difference for LD at your child’s school.

If you’ve been following the series, you’ve hopefully tried at least a few of the suggested out-of-the-box advocacy methods. Maybe you’ve been tweetingwriting emails, or talking to your friends and neighbors about LD. Once you get started, it gets easier and easier to make LD part of your day-to-day interactions and online conversations. As long as you’re sporting your advocate hat, let’s keep going by focusing on how to advocate for change on your child’s own school campus.

The Good FightFor many parents of kids with disabilities, their child’s school is actually the hardest place to be an effective advocate. For me, it’s difficult to practice what I preach when I’m dealing with the people on my daughter’s campus team, be it her IEP/504 committees, her principle, or her classroom teacher.

I can tell you exactly why that is. Your child’s campus is where IEP meetings occur, and IEP meetings are where parents are often forced to put on their parent advocate hat for the very first time. Many a parent has IEP-meeting war stories to tell. And, let’s be honest – many of these stories are not pretty. I often say that the people who have seen me at my most vulnerable and uncensored are my husband, my OB/GYN, and my children’s IEP teams.

Turn It AroundIt makes sense why parents like me (and maybe you) who have had to fight the good fight in the IEP setting might have a difficult time taking up that same fight in a positive, collaborative way when it comes to encouraging your school campus to accept and embrace kids with LD. But, if you can just manage to re-focus your negative feelings into positive, upbeat efforts to raise LD awareness and remove stigma, it will be well worth the effort.

Focus on Diversity in Your Child’s ClassroomThe first place to start when advocating on your child’s campus is right in his or her classroom. In one of the first articles I ever wrote about parent advocacy, I described how I read a book to my daughter’s 1st grade class about what it’s like to be different. The book, titled Just Because, shares the story of a sister’s love for her sibling with a disability. After reading the book, I led my little girl’s classmates in one of the most touching discussions I’ve ever had about diversity and acceptance. Right out of the mouths of babes.

To this day, one of the children in my daughter’s classroom (a child whom I can see also feels different) runs over to hug me every time I see her on campus. We bonded that day – because I could see it in her eyes while I was reading, “Thank you for helping my friends understand that it’s OK to be different.”

Other ideas:

  • Ask your child’s teacher if you can do a craft with a diversity theme on your next volunteer day
  • Suggest a field trip to a nursing home or other location where you will encounter people that seem different in some way
  • Suggest a writing topic (for older kids) that focuses on diversity

Heck, I even made up a song once about being different and showed up at my son’s classroom with my guitar to sing it. (The kids loved it and didn’t care one bit that I messed up the chords!)

Make sure to end the event with a short chat about acceptance. You may be surprised how quickly you see a difference in the way your child with a disability is treated at school. A mere glimpse at how it feels to be the odd kid out really does go a long way in helping children put themselves in another’s shoes.

Start a Campus CampaignWhat do you want to see regarding LD on your child’s campus? More information for parents about LD on bulletin boards, in e-newsletters, or on your school’s website? Maybe a quarterly parent education meeting about PTA/PTO-sponsored LD services at your school? Or how about a “No Bullying Day” or a campus- or district-wide “Dyslexia Awareness Day”?

So…make it happen! The best way to go about it is to talk directly to your child’s principle to see what your options are. Ask her to partner with you and other parents gather some parents first and then provide clear, concise information about what you want to accomplish, such as:

  • a banner at the school entrance advertising the event
  • flyers and emails sent out to parents on your campus announcing the day
  • a short teacher training focus for that week on the LD-related topic
  • an announcement made by a student with LD willing to share their story with the campus

Work with your principle to make your vision a reality. If you don’t get a positive response at first, be politely persistent until you gain the approval you are seeking.

The Telling TreeI was watching an HBO documentary the other day called I Have Tourette’s, But Tourette’s Doesn’t Have Me. Part of the film focuses on a 10-year-old boy with Tourette Syndrome who’s made it his mission to tell his entire school about his difference so that they can understand his condition and what it feels like to be misunderstood.

He calls it his “Telling Tree” philosophy: if he tells one person about Tourette Syndrome, then that person might tell one or even four or eight people about it. From there, the effect is exponential and stigma-bashing—all because one person spoke out and took the time to educate others.

Now, that’s a powerful message – straight from the mouth of a child struggling to fit in while feeling undeniably different.

If a young child with a visible disability that puts him at risk for bullying and other forms of discrimination can speak up about the need to embrace diversity, then I believe that we as parent advocates can put aside the discomfort we may be feeling and work for change on our child’s campus.

Before you know it, your own “Telling Tree” will be one million strong.