British Columbia

B.C. mom writes book to help parents of special needs children with back-to-school

Cynthia Lockrey's son has special needs and she has written a book to help other parents like herself advocate for children who need extra support at school.

Author and advocate Cynthia Lockrey says it is important to advocate early in the year for your child

September is a critical month for parents of children with special needs to advocate for what their child needs and to learn what resources are available to them. (Shutterstock)

The first day of school for Vancouver Island mom Cynthia Lockrey is exciting and a little scary.

Lockrey, who lives in Duncan, B.C., has a seven-year-old son with special needs and struggled to find resources to help her advocate for his needs when he first entered the school system. So, she reached out to doctors, educators and specialists to find out what they advise and compiled it into a comprehensive book to help other parents of special needs children.

Your Child's Voice  A Caregiver's Guide to Advocating for Kids with Special Needs, Disabilities, or Others Who May Fall through the Cracks offers practical information to parents such as making sure medications are filled, checking what support children will be receiving from the school and bringing new teachers and support staff up to speed on specific needs.

"September is crucial for us parents ... that's when ministry financing falls into place," Lockrey told On The Island host Gregor Craigie in a phone interview. She said the first month is when each school fills out provincial forms for children who have special needs designation in order to get the support services they need until June.

According to Lockrey, the funding each individual child is entitled to based on need is part of one large pot of money the province provides to school districts, which then allocate it to the schools themselves. This, says Lockrey, is one of the reasons parents need to advocate for their children.

Your Child's Voice A Caregiver's Guide to Advocating for Kids with Special Needs, Disabilities, or Others Who May Fall through the Cracks offers practical information to parents sending children with special needs back to school this September. (Submitted/Cynthia Lockrey)

She said last year her son was supposed to get 50 per cent of an educational assistant's time based on his needs but was only getting 10 per cent until Lockrey pushed back.

"You can hold them accountable," said Lockrey, although she acknowledged "there is a fine line between bullying and advocating" and teachers and support staff already have a lot on their plate.

She recommends parents ask teachers and staff what a good time is for them to meet and book an appointment, rather than approaching them at pick-up or drop-off times when they are busy working. 

And then come to that meeting prepared.

"Explain what their needs are but also their strengths," said Lockrey, adding parents should bring letters from their child's therapists and doctors to the meeting. She also suggested preparing a list of positive and negative points about what the school is doing for their child and to start with the positive.

If you have more than one child in the school, Lockrey says it is also a good idea to speak with their teacher. She said her son has sought comfort at school from his older sister, age 11, and it is important staff know this could happen. It is also good to give them the heads up in case the other child is being asked for at school or perhaps comes late because of concerns with their sibling. 

"Assume every year you are starting from zero," said Lockrey, who says it is important to advocate for your child every year as new staff may not have all the information provided during the previous year.

"It's not simple," said Lockrey. "It's about relationship building."

For more tips and advice on how to advocate for kids with special need visit www.yourchildsvoice.com. 

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