The day my son graduated from high school was one that I had anticipated for a very long time. It was very emotional for me and in the weeks leading up, I had moments where I would suddenly hold him tight and burst into tears. Those moments had not been as often as I thought they would be but during the few times they did occur my son would just squeeze tight and indulge me.
However nothing made me unravel more than the final email exchange with my son’s case manager. We were discussing the logistics of setting up the exit interview for his IEP. In the email, she was thanking me for flowers that I had sent, told me how happy she was to have my son as a student, and continued with some very kind words about his success, yet this was not what unraveled me. Instead it was the statement she made in reference to his IEP, “He is actually the one who signs it now that he is 18”. It actually took my breath away. My emotion soon became a combination of both tears and laughter. I couldn’t believe that of all the things in that past year this was the one to make me fall apart, but why?
Part of it certainly is that my son had just turned 18 and with that comes all new responsibilities such as signing his own IEP. Yet, that was a reality I had already accepted and was prepared for. This was bigger than that. This was something that until I read that statement, “He is actually the one who signs it now that he is 18”, I hadn’t realized had held such a huge part of my heart. It was something that has come to define who I am as a mom, as an educator and as a person. It was something that has become a focal point for the direction of my career. It was Advocacy.
When considering the role of a parent, advocacy is certainly on that list. However, when you are a parent of a child with a disability advocacy takes on a whole new meaning. The everyday opportunities and experiences that are provided for most students in education are many times the ones that parents of children with disabilities are fighting for. Anything from being included in the classroom to the type of teaching strategies to be used can be a subject of debate. Parents quickly learn that their signature on that IEP carries a great deal of power and can provide a crucial edge for them when advocating for their child.
For my son’s entire K-12 career that signature represented my role as an advocate for my son and my hope that I supported him to the best of my ability. That single statement reminded of how my role was changing. I have continued to support my son as he has ventured into college and the workforce to discover his passions and pursue his dreams, but I have also had to learn to trust in the foundation that was created for him. I had to trust that if he needs help he will ask for it. Most importantly I had to trust that I taught him the most valuable skill of all … self-advocacy.
Further information in our Advocacy resources.