5 Ways to Make the World Better for Kids With Special Needs Right Now
As parents of kids with special needs, we often feel powerless to make the big changes necessary to keep the world a safe and welcoming place for our children. Every article about a comedian using the R-word, every story of bullying or disrespect, every statistic about employment rates for adults with disabilities, every setback to funding or protections or rights leaves us feeling as though our children are getting more vulnerable by the second. Advocacy seems essential, but how do you even start? It’s hard to know what to do about such large-scale issues, especially when you’ve already got enough small-scale challenges to deal with.
Instead of worrying about those nation- and world-sized problems, try looking around you for human-sized ways to make a difference. Politics and policies undeniably have an effect on our children’s lives, but on a day-to-day basis, what happens in your neighborhood, school, and community has a bigger impact. Start small with these five actions you can take right now.
1. Get involved with advocacy on a local level.
Does your community have any advocacy groups fighting for children with special needs? It might be a parent group focused on special education, a branch of a national organization, or an informal support group organized by therapists. Maybe you’ve heard about it but never quite gotten around to joining, or joined but found it easier to just stay home. Let today be the day you make that phone call or send that e-mail or write that meeting time on your calendar. There’s strength in numbers.
2. Build a network of community support.
A large circle of people who know and appreciate and encourage your child is incredibly valuable. Make a list of the people who support your child on a daily basis. Include teachers, paraprofessionals, friendly school personnel, parents of friends, therapists, bus drivers, and anyone else who enjoys your child. Let those people know as often as you can how much you appreciate them and value their place in your family’s life. To widen that circle, get your child involved in activities like Special Olympics, Little League Challenger Division baseball, special-needs social groups, and anywhere you can find people who have a heart for special kids.
3. Increase your family’s visibility.
It’s easier to ignore, neglect, and disrespect people you’ve never met. One thing you can do to make the world a better place for kids with disabilities is to let them out in it. You’ll want to strategize your outings so that your child can have a positive experience — a lengthy trip to the supermarket after a long day at school is not your best bet. But going to a school activity for as long as your child can happily tolerate it might be. It’s tempting to hide out at home to escape the mean looks and judgmental attitudes we sometimes encounter, but you also deny people the opportunity to smile, be kind, and get to know a child like yours.
4. Join national advocacy groups.
When you want to move on from a local level, seek out organizations that can combine your individual voice with the voices of thousands of other parents. Most have suggestions for both personal and online advocacy. Follow through and spread the word. Use social media to let people know that children and adults with disabilities are not without a power base. The following posts on this blog can help you get started:
• 10 Special-Needs Organizations You Should Know About
• 23 Special Needs Organizations to “Like” on Facebook
• 15 Special Needs Organizations to Follow on Twitter
• Pinterest: 15 Special Needs Organizations and Bloggers to Follow
• 22 Great Special Needs Groups on LinkedIn
5. Speak up.
At every level, from the local school district up to national politics, our children suffer when we sit things out. It’s easy to make excuses for not going to that PTA meeting, but if no one is there to speak for the kids in special education, they will never get the attention and inclusion they deserve. It’s easy to avoid school-board meetings, those hotbeds of local politics and pettiness, but who will represent your child then? Be that squeaky wheel. Attend those meetings, e-mail your representatives at all levels of government, and create some repercussions for ignoring your family’s needs. It’s not the most fun thing you’ll ever do, but it may be the most important.