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Advocating for your Special Needs Child – Hillsborough Schools Experts Weigh In

Parenthood can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. It can also be the most challenging, especially if you have a child with special needs. Here are few simple tips from Hillsborough County Public Schools to help you through this journey as you advocate for your child.

Acceptance: Accept your child for who they are while loving and supporting them to be all they can be.

Self-care: Take care of yourself so you are as healthy and strong as you can be to take care of others, especially your child with special needs. Take time with friends, read a book, have a hobby and make sure you schedule your annual doctors’ appointments and keep them. Whatever it is that keeps you healthy and balanced, do it. If you need help, ask for help, and be specific as to what would be helpful.

Learn and research: Learn about your child’s disability, condition or special needs. Research different support groups or organizations that know about your child’s special needs. Seek second opinions when appropriate. Ask questions. Take the time you need to make an informed decision. Be cautious of information on the internet or the advice of family and friends. Someone else’s experiences may not be right for you and your child. Remember your child is unique and you must do what’s best for your child with what you know. Be confident in your decisions. Be OK when plans need to change because life or situations change. Learn about policies, procedures or laws that protect your child as a patient and/or student.

Sharing Information: Share your knowledge of your child with professionals and school staff. What works at home? What has not worked at home? Share past experiences in different situations, successful or not, especially with new professionals and teachers. When professionals or teachers share their ideas, ask for details as it relates to your child. It is OK to ask for clarification. What does that look like? Who will do this? How often?

Partnerships: Consider every professional whether it’s a teacher, a doctor, or a therapist as part of your child’s support team. Even the administrative assistant can be your best friend by expediting your message or concern with the appropriate staff. Everyone involved with your child has your child’s best interest at heart, but sometimes everyone may not agree with next steps, treatment plans or individual goals. It is OK to disagree as long as all parties are respectful, and it leads to good conversation or brain-storming different ideas. Being positive will help any situation, especially during tough conversations.

Resolving Conflicts: When you have made every effort to come to an agreement or resolution, take your concerns to the next level, ask for a second opinion or request a neutral person to help facilitate the conversation.

Involve your child: Involve your child in decision making when appropriate. For younger children, you might include them with the final plan and ask if they have questions. As they get older, they may be able to share what would help them.

Overall, stay positive and ask for help when you need it.

If you have a question about special education in Hillsborough County, or would like support, you can contact the ESE Department at 813-273-7025 or the ESE Parent Liaisons at 813-837-7732.


Originally Published in February 2022

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