Monday, September 29, 2014
I don't often think of what I do as "advocacy." I mean, I'm a homeschooling mother, who am I advocating to? But, if you stop and think, every time I try to enroll Mad Natter in anything, or take him out during a regular school day and school hours, every time I have to deal with unsolicited advice from others about how to parent my child - each of those times I'm advocating for him.
Gifted advocacy is often a thankless job. Not because you expect a child to be grateful for your efforts, because seriously, if I'm expecting a six year old to thank me for things he never even sees me do, I'm more than a little loony. But because no matter how hard you fight, you never reach all the people you need to, and you often have to fight these fights over again.
There are two primary scenarios that I deal in. First, there are medical professionals - doctors, dentists, eye doctors, everyone you take a child to see for their health and well-being. At the doctor, I find that I'm perpetually explaining the kinds of overexcitabilities Mad Natter has, and how they are impacting his health or will impact his appointment. With our usual doctor, this isn't a difficult process, as she listens, understands, and is willing to go forward with what she can. Whenever we see anyone who isn't that doctor, however, it's a fight. Not only because I understand that these things do have definite bearing on his health, but because the doctor doesn't. The number of times I've been told "he'll be fine" if I put him in public school, or that I've seen the patronizing smile of "yes, yes, well I'm the professional..." is infuriating - especially since the former isn't true, and the latter is usually rapidly followed by extremely loud protest from Mad Natter as the doctor disregards my input on his sensory needs.
The second scenario is family. These are the well-meaning folks (and occasionally folks just bent on being jerks - though that's really only one person) who have decided that my taking any kind of active hand in parenting my child (even if it's a hands-off reminder of something discussed earlier) is an open invitation to tell me what I'm doing wrong and how I should do it differently to "actually see results." This has two layers of difficulty - number one, the assertion that I don't know how to parent my own child and need intervention from someone who sees him twice a year, and number two, the advice given is usually some derivative of "you're bigger than he is, you make him."
Gifted advocacy, no matter who you're advocating to, is an incredible challenge. You're trying to dodge landmines left and right, trying not to offend people (because that only makes things worse) while simultaneously having to put a foot down and say, "No, I am the authority here." These are never easy things to do, but when you're used to just rolling with the punches, it seems a lot harder to hold your ground in a rushing river of people bound and determined to push you to their way of thinking.
The truth of the matter is, though, that I am the parent. None of these people I'm advocating to have even a fraction of our experience with our child. Yes, professionals may know about children. But, I, as mama, have a specialty in Mad Natter. He is not average in any respect, and while his care providers may know more about average children than I do, there isn't one of them who knows Mad Natter like I do. And that's what's important here. I stand in the path of professionals and well meaning family who think their way is the only way for one simple reason: they may have experience and degrees on their side, but not one of them is a specialist in Mad Natter - and I am. I am the specialist with respect to my child's needs and challenges. I run interference to ensure that all providers - healthcare, childcare, or otherwise - are aware of what the others have said. I ensure the dentist knows about his sensory issues, and the doctor is aware of his intellectual OE. I ensure that grandparents are made aware of his need to change topics frequently to learn everything about all the things. This is what I do, this is what a large portion of my thoughts and days are dedicated to - what I need to do to ensure my twice-exceptional child can navigate through the world to the best of his current ability, while scaffolding what might be just a bit beyond him, and not pushing him past his limits. I am his advocate, and this is my primary job. It's what I specialize in, and no matter what we run into, I am the one who knows what he can and can't handle better than anyone but him - and that's why it's so important I advocate for him. People won't take a child voicing their needs seriously. They will listen much better to an adult. And that is why I'm here. To be that person who will help him where he needs it, teach him the way, and help him learn where the rules don't budge and where they're flexible, and to make sure that his needs get met in the meantime.