Building Community: How Parents and Partners are Advocating Together

Lyn pollard NCLD By Lyn Pollard, NCLD Parent Advocacy Manager

When you hear the word “advocacy” what comes to mind?  Maybe helping your child with learning and attention issues gain access to educational services or accommodations?  Perhaps working collaborative within your child’s school district to help improve a program or build awareness about a specific disability area?  Or, do you first think of engaging with legislators at the state or national level to help develop legislation that can improve how students with disabilities are identified, served and embraced in the public school setting?

lyn pollard group
Richardson ISD PTA, SAGE (Special and Gifted Education), Texas PTI (Partners Resource Network – PATH Project), National Center for Learning Disabilities, Decoding Dyslexia Texas, Decoding Dyslexia Alaska, Richardson ISD, Parents Texas State Board of Education

In my experience, advocacy absolutely and ultimately includes all three of these!  As you may have experienced first-hand, advocacy can take on many forms.  Parents and others who find themselves wearing the “advocate hat” often begin with one form of advocacy (usually for their own child) but soon find themselves becoming more engaged, better educated, connected to a community and ultimately more empowered to create change for many children at the district, state and/or federal levels.

This progression of advocacy involvement is natural and highly intuitive, from what I have observed.  Parents are adept at accessing online resources and coming quickly up to speed on what they need to know about state and federal laws and rules pertaining to special education and 504 to guide their advocacy efforts.  As you may have observed as the fruit of your own advocacy efforts, education and collaboration at all levels is a very important part of the process of advocating for change.  And, at the heart of this collaborative advocacy approach is developing strong relationships between parents, educators, non-profit organizations, researchers and key thought leaders that are all currently working together to help move the needle forward for students like ours.

As the parent of two children with learning and attention issues, I started my advocacy journey just like many of you – by taking a stand to help my children with disabilities get what they needed and deserved in their public school setting.  But, I quickly encountered unfortunate barriers, misinformation, and a severe lack of education in my public school administration about what learning and attention issues are and how my kids needed to be supported. I realized early-on that I needed to do much more than just advocate for my own children to help other parents like me avoid the incorrect answers, delays and other pitfalls I was facing as a parent trying to make sure my kids had access to a free and appropriate public education at their local school.

One of the most important insights I’ve developed along my 6+-year advocacy journey is that advocacy for students with learning and attention issues is definitely not a one-person job. It takes a village, including parents, educators, researchers, thought leaders and policy makers at the local, state and federal level to move the needle forward for kids with learning and attention issues. And, the more we work together, the more we can get accomplished.  I started the journey alone – very alone and feeling completely disconnected – but now I have found empowerment and hope simply in connecting with and working together with many people who care about kids like mine.

Now, as the Parent Advocacy Manager for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, I have the unique opportunity every day to engage with not only parent advocates, but leaders and decision makers in organizations across the country focused on creating change for students with learning disabilities like dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia as a well as attention issues like ADD and ADHD.   Building and fostering collaborative relationships across many different areas of the education space is something that I think, talk, write and tweet about frequently.  And, observing the power of what can be accomplished when we come together, especially on state and federal-level advocacy efforts, is truly inspiring.

There are many collaborative advocacy efforts going on right now across the country to help improve the lives of students with learning and attention issues.  On June 9 at 11:00 a.m. EDT I’ll be hosting a webinar right here with the PEATC titled Collaborative Advocacy Efforts: Working Together Towards Change.  You can register for this webinar here:  In this webinar, I’ll give a first-hand look behind the scenes of ongoing advocacy efforts at the federal, state and local level, helping highlight why community development and collaboration are keys to success. I’ll also talk about one of my favorite topics, grassroots advocacy, which involves engaging and highlighting amazing and highly involved parents (like you) from across the country that are actively coming together as a collective voice to help raise awareness and drive change for our kids.  Parent advocates are vitally important in approaching lawmakers, telling their stories and asking their representatives to make decisions that will provide more support, services and teacher training that will support all kids at school.

During the webinar, I’ll also give an update on ESEA (No Child Left Behind) and IDEA (Special Education) federal legislation, and give parents, educators and other interested parties helpful tips and tricks about how to quickly get involved and make the biggest impact for not only their own child, but for other children as well.

I hope you can join us on June 9th to learn more about the importance of working together towards change, what efforts are currently underway to make a difference for students with disabilities, plus learn how you can get directly involved.

No matter where you are in your advocacy journey, you can make a direct impact.  Connecting with parents both locally and online is a great way to start.

Click HERE to register and learn more about the June 9th webinar.  Hope to see you there!