How to Advocate for the 'Difficult' Child

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Updated on Mar 25, 2013

It’s hard enough to have a child who is considered “difficult.” The daily struggles that parents have to deal with are innumerable: the constant behavior battles, the arguing, trying to discern truth from fiction, getting your child to go to bed, and then to school. But it’s even harder when you have to convince teachers that it’s their job to work with you to help your child. But don’t give up. With persistence and tact, you can become an effective advocate for your child.

While the persistence goes without saying, the tact may be even more important. Remember, you will be dealing with several professionals who will have different opinions. Also, you know how your child acts at home; he probably displays the same behaviors at school. He may not have a big fan club there. Regardless, he is entitled to the same free public education every other child is.

So, who is the “difficult” child? And how do you help him? He can have the diagnosis of Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), Conduct Disorder (CD), Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD), Pervasive Developmental Disability (PDD) or a number of others. Start by learning as much as you can about his unique diagnosis. You are the first line of defense when it comes to school negotiations. Knowing exactly what’s best for your child will help you present an informed, valid argument at school meetings rather than letting decisions be made for you and your child. Knowledge is power! Here are some other key points to remember when advocating for your child:

Familiarize yourself with your child’s rights as a special needs student. This does not mean you have to become an expert (although this does happen with many parents, and that’s great!). There are many wonderful resources available for parents to bone up on their special education law and find tons of support and information.

Be a familiar presence at your child’s school. Of course people have lives, jobs, younger kids and housework. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep up with your child’s progress. Attend as many meetings as possible in person. If you can’t be there, try to arrange a phone conference. Arrange for progress reports on a regular basis. A parent-teacher log is a great way to keep more steady contact.

Start a behavior modification program that your child believes in. Linda I. Slone, a special education advocate and speech-language pathologist, says the most important strategies are focusing on the targeted behaviors and knowing what reinforcement is important to your child. “When designing a behavior modification program, enable the child to replace objectionable behaviors with acceptable ones that both make sense to the child and have inherent rewards so that they become to feel natural to the child,” she says. A child won’t follow a behavior modification program if he doesn’t believe in it.  

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