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Becoming a Community Advocate

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If you’re a support staff for an individual with special needs, a child with autism or a caregiver for a senior, you understand the importance of being your own advocate. Insurance companies, school systems, and care centers all have budget constraints, so they’re unlikely to offer more than they have to. It’s up to you to fight for what you need. However, there are many people in your community who have neither the skills nor the resources to advocate for themselves. Have you considered advocating on their behalf? Here are just a couple of ways you can help.

Education advocacy

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires all public schools to accommodate and modify educational practices for children with disabilities. Those accommodations and modifications are determined during an Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting between parents, school administration, a special education representative, and a general education teacher. Appropriate accommodations vary depending on a child’s needs, ranging from preferential seating to one-on-one, in-home education. Many of the accommodations are expensive, however, and with education budgets being tight, schools are sometimes reluctant to provide these services. Parents who don’t know their rights under the law are less likely to secure the accommodations and modifications their child needs. If you have experience in this area, whether you’re an education professional or a parent with a special needs child, you could provide life-changing guidance to a family in need. The law stipulates that parents may bring support of their choosing to IEP meetings – know the law, and be a voice for people who don’t.

Senior advocacy

Seniors are another vulnerable segment of the population, and not all of them have a family member to advocate on their behalf. You can help deliver the services seniors need – the opportunities are endless. Many seniors need help navigating issues like Medicare, taxes, long-term health insurance, veterans’ benefits, etc. Whether you work with governmental agencies, care facilities, or insurance companies, your help can have a huge impact in a senior’s life. If you’re unsure of where to start, contact your community’s senior outreach program or a local retirement community.

Community advocacy

In addition to one-on-one advocacy, you can be a community leader on behalf of people who can’t fight for their own needs. You could advocate for increased funding for schools, reduced property taxes for senior homeowners, and even for increased community activities targeting children, seniors, and families.

Some people become community advocates after having to advocate on behalf of a family member. Some are drawn to advocacy by virtue of their professional skills or leadership abilities. What community advocates have in common is a desire to use their experience to help make things better for everyone. What can you do to improve the lives around you?

Happy Kid

Helping Your Child Overcome Social Anxiety

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Many children with developmental disorders often feel uncomfortable and out of place, which can cause extreme social anxiety. Anxiety can affect a child’s academic performance, friendships, emotional state, and even his physical health. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to help.

Plan ahead. It’s almost impossible to learn anything when you’re scared and anxious, and that’s certainly true for children with developmental disorders. Trying to coach your child on social behavior when you’re in the car on the way to an event wouldn’t be very helpful. Instead, start well in advance, and pick a time when your child is relaxed and happy, so that he’ll be better able to absorb the lesson.

Set the stage. Due to their social deficits, children with developmental disorders can’t visualize what is likely to happen in a given situation. You can help by giving a realistic preview: what the event is for, who will be there, what they’ll be doing, and what the proper behavior is. Stick to concrete terms your child will understand. For instance, instead of saying, “Sally will be really excited because it’s her birthday,” focus on the facts: “People will sing happy birthday and eat cake and ice cream. Then Sally will open her presents while you and the other guests watch.”

Role play various scenarios with your child: knocking on the door, greeting the host, offering a gift, etc. Knowing what to do will reduce your child’s anxiety and lay the groundwork for a successful experience.

Work through some “what ifs.” You don’t want to increase your child’s anxiety by giving him new things to worry about, but you do want him to be able to adapt if things don’t go exactly as you practiced. “What if Sally’s older brother is the one who opens the door?” “What if no one offers to take the gift?” “What if they play a game you don’t know how to play?”

The important thing to remember is that children with developmental disorders often don’t understand the social behaviors that are second nature to us. It’s similar to the idea of teaching someone how to breathe. How would you describe the first step? How would you demonstrate? You’d have to take something you’ve been doing your whole life without even thinking about it, then break it down into components you can teach – and that’s exactly what you need to do when it comes to helping your child cope with social anxiety.

Kid

Emotions Matter

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Emotions are an incredibly powerful force in our lives! Emotions fuel our mental state, they tell us how we feel and how to respond to certain situations. So, what if a person has difficulty recognizing their emotions?

Children with Autism often experience that difficulty. They find it hard to recognize the facial expressions and what emotions they hold. And on the other end, they have trouble controlling their own emotions and reactions. The good news? We can do something about it.

Here are some of the tips for parents to use in helping their children develop and improve their ability to express and respond to emotions:

Associate simple words with emotions. One way to help your child remember and recognize emotions is by pointing out emotions as they organically arise. Take for example watching TV- If a character is smiling and joyous, point out his face and demeanor while saying “Look, Edward’s smiling. He is happy.”

Focus your child’s attention. Another helpful way in developing your child’s response to emotions is by improving their concentration skills. You can work on this trait by allowing him to focus on a person while they are speaking.

Respond to your child’s emotions. One good way to backup your child’s emotional recognition skill is by responding to their emotion by recognizing and verbally expressing what emotion is present. For example, “You’re smiling. You must be happy.”

Encourage your child to maintain eye contact. Having your child maintain eye contact when communicating with someone is an effective way in helping them practice and improve their emotional recognition skills.

Utilizing resources that are available to you is also important; other parents, blogs, social skills groups, one on one therapy, etc. Every child has their own pace of learning and developing. So, despite any hiccups or bumps in the road, remember to stay positive!