Workshop For Dads – Autism and Special Education

Dads navigating through their children’s preschool through high school experiences have long been seen as the person who only attends an annual parent-teacher conference or appears at a school meeting when problems arise.  No longer.

Fathers are taking an active role in every phase of their children’s lives, and this is never more true than when their child has an autism spectrum diagnosis and is requiring special education services and supports in school.  The complexities of their children’s needs and the special education arena require dads to understand the basics and well beyond in order to truly be key players in the process.

“The Dad Dilemma: Your Child, Autism and Special Education” is a workshop for dads only being held in the Philadelphia area on June 26th and July 10th.  From understanding the language of special education to effective parent advocacy strategies, this interactive session will end the confusion that many dads feel and will replace it with information and actionable steps.  Dads should not have to struggle to “catch-up” to understand what’s happening with their children in school.

Information can be found at: http://www.education-navigation.com/fathersworkshop or by contacting us directly at 610-628-4456.

Snap Out Of It…

I love this line from the film “Moonstruck,” when Cher tells Nicholas Cage to snap out of it after he says he loves her (she is planning to marry his brother).  It’s a favorite that I often use when a particular topic arises.

The topic is labels and let me first say this…no one likes to be labeled anything.  Labels are restrictive and create barriers.  They convey things to others that are often incorrect and can be discriminatory.  But…they can also open doors and create avenues that may otherwise not be available to pursue.  And they also help to bring explanations and reason to things that may truly need clarity.

All this to say, it always confounds me when I hear a parent say that they know their child is struggling yet don’t want to have them evaluated.  My initial reaction is to empathize, saying that I understand that finding out “why” can be scary and overwhelming.  It taps into fears of the unknown, of what we may *think* we know about something, and of what finding out will really mean.  But it takes less than 10 seconds to move from an empathetic reaction to a “snap out of it” response mode.

No parent wants to think or be told that their child has autism.  Or is bipolar.  Or has ADHD.  What parent would ever want their child to be “labeled” no less to face the reality that others will know about it too.  What parent would wish therapies or being pulled out of class for support on their child.  None.  But parents who resist or refuse to “face the music” need to realize a few facts:

  1. They need to separate their own preconceived notions and “what if’s” from the realities facing their child.
  2. They need to recognize that every day, week, and month of delay is precious time wasted.
  3. They need to understand that the label is essential to securing the supports and services the child may need in school…and beyond.

When I hear a parent express their concerns, I ask whether they prefer speculation or knowing.  Whether the status quo is working.  Whether their child is on a trajectory of success or failure.  Of *course* every parent wants their child to be healthy and happy.  To get good grades, make friends, and be successful in the world.  These are foundational desires all parents share.

Yet many children have been struggling for years, taking a huge toll on the child in immeasurable ways.  Repeated “F’s” on tests can be seen (and can be devastating to the child), but it’s the things out of view – the sense of failure, of not feeling smart, of always having difficulties – these are the things that can take away a child’s desire to even try anymore.  And it doesn’t matter if the child is in 3rd Grade or is 15-years-old; feelings of despair accumulate and struggling saps the drive and hope for a better tomorrow out of the youngest of children.

Do parents who resist an evaluation and “label” think that the struggling is going to stop at will?  That the child is intentionally failing math, purposely not making friends, or planning to have behavioral issues in school?  Of course not.  And this is where the “snap out of it” message needs to be said…and heard.

It is incumbent upon parents of children for whom struggling defines their existence to put their own fears aside and mobilize.  With the end of the school year upon us, summer is the time to secure an evaluation and to plan for how to make things better in September and beyond. Yes, this may mean special education services, frequent meetings with school, and involvement of private clinicians and outside experts.  But which vision do you choose…pretending the issues don’t exist, hoping they’ll just go away with time, or telling your child that you’re now “on the case” and that things are going to improve?

A label is words.  Dyslexia.  ADD.  Asperger’s Syndrome.  They only have power if parents allow them to.  These words are also doorways to answers and strategies that will move the needle from failure to success, defined differently for every child.

If you happen to be one of the parents who have allowed your own fears to override getting the information – and diagnosis – your child needs, please…snap out of it.  Your child is depending upon you to do so.

The “What If’s” That Actually Happen…

Parents who have children, adolescents, or young adults who are struggling rarely get “time off” whether for a holiday, vacation, or any other routine break.  This is particularly true when, as mentioned last week, the denial issue remains front and center.  During those 2:00 a.m. think sessions that most parents have at one time or another, the “what if’s” rear themselves and the thoughts of the worst case scenarios start their one-act plays in our heads.  It’s just part of parenting, particularly when it involves a struggling child.

This weekend, I spent hours on the telephone with clinicians on behalf of a young adult located across the country who was in dire trouble.  These clinicians were making decisions about this child (and yes, those in their 20’s are still children) while this child’s parent did little to question or challenge the clinical decision-makers.  Even though what was being said needed serious questioning and the need to put on the brakes was apparent, it simply did not happen.  And while I take no credit for any actions taken on behalf of a parent or child, it was only when someone (i.e. me) who was not wallowing in denial jumped into the equation that rational heads and thinking emerged.  The alternative would have been catastrophic for the young adult, both short and long-term.

Here’s what needs to be said (actually, said again as it’s messages I frequently convey) to parents:

  • Even though someone has initials after their name, this does not mean that parents need to follow their recommendations without questions being asked, a clear and thorough understanding of what is being said, and knowing the steps in the process.  Even then, the answer of  “no” remains a parent’s right.
  • Every child — whether 7 or 24 — needs a parent advocate to help them maneuver through situations that are beyond their grasp, particularly in times of crisis.  Don’t let a child’s age be the determining factor in terms of whether they are “old enough” to handle whatever is coming their way.
  • Every parent *must* set aside their denial about the severity of the issue/s or situation and deal with the reality of what is before them.  Denial is a parent’s worst enemy because it basically takes the need to mobilize — and mobilize quickly — off the radar screen.

So often I find myself counseling parents to “get it together” and to remember that the issue is not about them, but rather about their child.  It is this denial and the delay that accompanies it that creates greater issues and challenges, not fewer.   Parents must never forget that their role in advocating for their children requires a clear head, open mind, and strong constitution.  Every parent has it — some just require a little “kick in the pants” to remember it.

What’s Worse…Denial or Fear?

Any parent would tell you that there’s nothing worse than thinking or knowing that something is wrong with their child.  The questioning about what did *they* do (or not do), the concerns that perhaps they missed some earlier signs, the worries about the long-term issues that their child may face.  All are very real introspective questions that accompany parenting a struggling child — it simply goes with the territory.  Many have said that it equates to the stages of grief.   I get it because I, too, have been there.

But here’s the problem.  Over the past several weeks (and for years beforehand as well), I have spoken with more than a few parents who have rejected the notion that indeed, something is happening with their child in school and that further investigation via evaluations is needed.  One parent stated that he’s “just being lazy” while another parent said that “he just needs to focus better.”  Another told me that “there’s nothing wrong with her that less time on Facebook won’t fix” and another said that while her child has already been diagnosed, it’s really not what’s going on.

Is this denial or fear?  And does it really matter?  The answer is this — whether it takes two weeks or a year to mobilize, the longer the parents wait to do so, the tougher the path for their child.  We all know parents who kick-it into overdrive immediately, exhausting every possible resource to find answers.  We also know parents who take a “wait and see” approach, certainly understandable when the issues are unclear.  The problems emerge, however, when parents either conclude that whatever is happening is just a passing phase or that a “good talking to” or removing privileges will set the child on the right path.

That expression “it’s all about me” comes into play in spades in situations where a parent, because of denial or fear, fails to take action to help their struggling child succeed.  The parent is leading with their own feelings instead of stepping back and realizing that no…this is not about me but rather, it’s all about my child.

Each day of lost learning often snowballs into years of struggle.   What starts as a child’s inability to read aloud in 2nd Grade often becomes a teen’s inability to succeed in a high school public speaking class.  A middle school child without a single friend is a sign that something is amiss.  A child exhibiting troublesome behaviors is communicating that there is something wrong.  Parents need to pay attention and sweep their own feelings aside until the child’s struggles are evaluated and interventions are in place.

Acknowledging that your child is struggling isn’t easy.  But either is raising a child.  If you know, whether from seeing failing grades, the inability to complete homework, or mounting social and behavioral issues, that your child is not doing well at their job — i.e. school, fearing what it “could be” or denying what it “is” and not mobilizing just delays acknowledging the fact… something is wrong and it’s not going away.

Parenting is as difficult as it is rewarding.  No one prepares any of us for the “what if’s” that come along with raising a child from infancy to young adulthood.  Yet parents *are* parents because we have the life experience and wisdom to make the difficult choices and decisions.  We can handle it because we must.