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April 22, 2009

It's Never too Early to Advocate

1072657_brainy_people When my son entered kindergarten, I gave a head's up about my special son to his very experienced teacher. She ignored me. Whenever I asked how he was doing, she told me he was just fine.

Fine, I've since learned, means your child is not causing problems. Fine means your child behaves reasonably well. Is compliant. Fine does not mean your child is happy, growing academically, or making friends.

Indeed, by first grade, it was clear that none of these things were happening. My son grew increasingly anxious and depressed about going to school.

I became my son's advocate. I had to. Any parent whose child is a bit different is going speak up on that child's behalf to get him the services he needs to thrive.

Looking back, it seems I came on too strong. Or I didn't come on strong enough. I spoke too early. Or I waited longer than I should have to address certain issues. I see myself as a prime example of What Not to Do.

My boy was not on a typical developmental bell curve. He was far to the end. And I had no legal rights to get him the education he needed.

My son is academically talented. Highly gifted. Profoundly gifted some say, though I find it hard to use the term without sounding profoundly obnoxious.

About five years ago, funding for gifted education in Illinois was cut. And by cut I mean eliminated.

Completely.

Without funding, public schools were not required to provide programming for gifted students, a population that has unique social, emotional and academic needs. Without a mandate for gifted education, my son was not, is not, entitled to the "free and appropriate education," the special accommodations that other Illinois special needs students are guaranteed by law.

So once again, I am stepping up as an advocate, and I'd love for you to join me. Even though I was discouraged by my experience speaking to the Illinois State Board of Education Budget Hearing in 2007, I'm told it helped. Last year $2 million was provided for gifted education in the form of teacher training. 

Last week, I spent about 10 minutes on the phone calling my state legislators asking them to sponsor or at least approve House Bill 4044. It was easy. Painless. Maybe you can spend a few minutes doing the same? All of the information you need to help gifted children in Illinois is just a few clicks away.

If you want to get involved on a larger scale, considering joining hundreds of families and educators down in Springfield later this month for Gifted Education Advocacy Day.

With my oldest boy in fifth grade now, I think it's too late for him in some ways. Between the lack of a gifted mandate and the pressures of No Child Left Behind requiring all students to achieve minimum standards rather than more personalized, appropriate learning goals, he's lost out. Thankfully, he's in better public school situation now than he was in kindergarten, but those early years made a lasting impression on him.

Among the lessons I've learned too late are that it's never too early to start advocating for your child and it's often necessary to make your voice heard beyond the classroom, beyond principal's office, all the way to the state legislature.

Original post to Chicago Moms Blog.

Kim blogs at Hormone-colored Days, where she writes about parenting gifted children, marketing to mommy bloggers and whatever else is on her mind.

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