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My Voice Matters: From “a” to “A”

April 27, 2016

Amanda Morin is a professional in child advocacy. She began her career as a kindergarten teacher and then became an early intervention specialist. If anyone was equipped with the skills and knowledge to raise children with special needs, it was Amanda. But when she had her own children, she said the transition from professional to parent wasn’t easy.

“I realized that the difference from being a professional and a parent is HUGE,” Amanda said. “Speaking up for my own kids was very different from speaking up for other kids.”

Amanda has three children, and two of them have learning and attention issues. When her now-teenage son, Jacob, was just a few years old, she began noticing hiccups in his development. Armed with her knowledge as an early intervention specialist, Amanda used whatever supports she could to document her concerns, but clinicians largely disregarded them. Because Jacob is intellectually gifted and also has a disability, many teachers saw him as a smart kid who just wasn’t trying hard enough.

“It was really hard to get people to listen and say this isn’t a kid who’s deliberately misbehaving or not following your directions,” Amanda said. “It’s a kid who just doesn’t have the skills to do it.”

 Being labeled as the disruptive kid in class didn’t just affect Jacob’s academics, it was destructive to his social life as well. Although he was trying, Jacob thought he was a bad kid and didn’t have any friends. Eventually his anxiety and depression grew so bad he told his mother he didn’t want to live anymore.

“It was devastating as a parent to hear that kind of thing,” Amanda said. “And it makes you make hard choices, and one of the hard choices we had to make was to find help – and like immediately.”

Amanda and her husband sprang into action and advocated for their son’s needs, calling whoever would listen to their story and pleading for help. Amanda admitted there were plenty of times when she wanted to just give up, but she knew giving up on finding that one person who would listen meant she was resigning to her child’s struggle.

But Amanda didn’t give up. Jacob was admitted into a hospital school, and they found that one person – a school psychologist. Finally, someone was listening. With the psychologist and the Morin family working together, Jacob had a solid team supporting and advocating for his needs. They put together a program so that Jacob’s school system was prepared when he returned, and he began to thrive. Today Jacob is a happy eighth-grader with straight-A’s and close friends.

This experience was pivotal for Amanda. It was in being a parent and making the decision to put Jacob in a hospital school setting that she had a very sobering epiphany about her professional life.

“I had a background in this. I knew the system. I knew how to go into meetings. I knew what his rights were. I knew what he was entitled to educationally, and I came out feeling defeated.” Amanda said. “And I realized with my background I felt that way, what was happening to parents who didn’t have the background, who didn’t have confidence in their ability to speak up, who did give up, who didn’t feel they could keep talking and find that one person who could listen?”

Amanda launched from what she calls “little-a” advocacy to “big-A” advocacy. Once her son was doing well, she began to attend IEP meetings with parents who needed guidance. She wrote The Everything Parent's Guide to Special Education, which is sold nationwide. She began working with the National Center for Learning Disabilities and as a staff-writer and expert at Understood, a free online resource for parents of children with learning and attention issues.

At Understood, Amanda works with parents to provide information they need to advocate for their children. Her biggest piece of advice? Make social connections – find support systems.

“It can be isolating to feel like you’re the only person who has something going on in your house that is complicated and difficult and challenging,” Amanda said. “And so when you find parents who are doing the same thing, whether they’re in the same place you are or further down the journey, it’s really relieving to realize you’re not the only one and there are people there who can sort of guide you.”

Today, there are many ways to connect with parents who have similar concerns. Whether it be in person at a local family resource center or online in a forum, Amanda emphasizes how important it is to cultivate relationships with parents who are dealing with the same issues. When parents come together to talk about their children’s needs, it speaks volumes.

“Your one voice may be the voice that makes another parent comfortable to speak up, and then another parent,” Amanda said. “Once you start talking about what you need, other people feel empowered to talk about what they need. One voice becomes two voices, becomes three voices, becomes a whole movement of voices. Everybody’s voice matters.”

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