Advocating for our children who struggle with reading

By Kara Wishman

Wow. Parents of children who struggle with reading.  Are you exhausted?  

We’ve read the articles detailing the jobs and the salaries for mothers who stay at home. I would love to see the additional salary tacked on for moms or dads of kids with disabilities, and in particular, moms or dads of kids with dyslexia. I don’t know if you’ve stopped to think about the knowledge base and roles you move into on this journey, so allow me to lay some of it out for you…


  1.  Advocate: this is the “easy” one, right?  It’s the all encompassing one of what I’ll list out below, but it begins with attending school meetings (and can we talk about these for a minute….I mean 1 or 2 people on the parent’s side and between 6-12 people on the district side of the table?). As the parent(s), you are charged with knowing what your child needs through the process, and weigh if what is offered meets the needs of your child. We move then, into the next role of the parent(s)…


  1.  Psychologist:  Mental health can definitely be a piece of this whole process, and may be wrapped up in evaluations that have been done, but with this one, I’m speaking mostly to understanding standardized tests that were run by a licensed psychologist, school psychologist, or speech language pathologist. You have to be able to understand the tests that were performed, and what the data that is produced by your child represents.  Then, you have to take your possible “outside data” (if your standardized tests were performed by someone outside of the school system), and tie it into the data your school is using to make the determination from their side. Or, if the school has used their own assessments, you have to research what they are, if they’re appropriate for the questions being asked (disability and need?), and what that data represents.  This, of course, leads you to take on the title of….


  1.  Curriculum expert: In this role, you must research to understand the curriculum that is currently being used with your child during their school day. This will include spending time online learning about the curriculum, what type of student is a target for the curriculum, and if it is being implemented with fidelity.  It may include contacting the curriculum company directly (guilty!!), and asking these specific questions (you’ve heard moms do more research than the FBI, right?). After you have done all of the above, you will move into your next role in the process…


  1.  Technology expert: You have the knowledge of tests and data, you have knowledge of curriculum, now you have to figure out the area of technology, and how to fit it in with the needs of your particular child.  It really helps when you have different companies with different products trying to meet the same needs, so you have multiple items to research for only one need area (see speech to text for an example). If you haven’t walked down this road, it’s important to realize every child is different, so even if one “expert” recommends it, you may not know until it is tried with your particular child!  There’s no guarantee you’ll even have your child’s buy-in on this road as well, so there may be some trial and error to it. At this point, there can already be complete exhaustion, and a feeling of being overwhelmed, but this is where all the above can make no difference unless you understand how important the role of 5 is, and where the parent needs to have their firmest enter…


  1. Attorney: Once you have gathered all of the above data, have individualized it to your specific child, and think you have your arguments ready, you now get to research your state standards and the federal IDEA law.  Common Core has standards by subject at the state level that your district is likely using to consider if your child has a disability (in Iowa), and what kind of help they receive (or where your district may pull out the “good grades” refusal).  You have to have knowledge of what these expectations are, but you also need to have a general working idea of the federal law as district personnel may not, or they may count on parents lacking the knowledge and understanding. Parents are not always given correct information, and access to these pieces during a meeting can aid in the appropriate processes being carried out, the appropriate testing being conducted, or the appropriate services being offered.  It helps to have these documents and information available at your fingertips during school meetings.

So parents, please know that the responsibility for knowing what your child needs, and if their needs are being met, will rely on YOU.

Parents may elect to take these roles on themselves with many resources out there (Facebook groups, other parents, local supports, etc), or they may elect to hire advocates or attorneys. Either way, parents need to be armed with the roles they will need to play in order to best meet their child’s needs.  And, unfortunately, even if you have covered 1-7 well, the district may still say “no”, and you may have to use your procedural safeguards to file a state complaint or a due process, and have a judge decide.  Whatever your journey, you are your child’s best advocate, as you know them best.

Always advocating and empowering parents to advocate!

Kara Wishman is a homeschool mother who tutors in the Orton-Gillingham method (Wilson), and is a parent advocate for families needing 504/IEP help.  In getting her children’s educational needs met both at home and in public schools, she has gained much expertise in the areas where children who struggle to read need help. She used this knowledge to help others by becoming a parent advocate at 504 and IEP meetings, volunteering with Decoding Dyslexia Iowa, and becoming an Orton-Gillingham tutor at Aspire Academy using the Wilson program.  Kara is a guest blogger for Aspire Academy, and we appreciate her viewpoints expertise.


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