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Winter 2001 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Are You Learning to Fish?

By Jean Robinson, Family Support Specialist, TSBVI, VI Outreach

I want to share an e-mail that I received from a parent that describes the benefits she received from attending training on "Parent Advocacy and Self-Esteem." It was inspiring to me.

The director of the Mountain States Parents CAN (website - www.mspcan.org), Teri Toothman, knows firsthand how difficult it is for parents of children with disabilities to get the skills and services their children need. Initially, Teri's staff did individual advocacy for parents and they were very successful. Later, the organization began teaching parents how to advocate for themselves and their children. What led to this change?

Teri found an old Chinese proverb that sums up what their mission is all about. "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

Teri says, "I realized that we were actually doing parents an injustice by not giving them the tools they needed to advocate for their kids. In response to this discovery, I developed the Parents As Advocates curriculum. Our parent advocates take classes for a year and learn about policymaking, negotiating, educational law, mental health law, and parent/professional collaboration."

Discussing her growth as an advocate, Teri said, "I remember when I started advocating for my three children and how hard it was without negotiating skills and education law knowledge. I felt hopeless at these meeting and agreed with whatever they said because I thought they were the professionals and knew what was best for my child."

"Then I learned educational law. I went into meetings thinking I knew what was best for my child and no one could tell me different. Barriers went up so fast that I didn't know what was happening. I didn't accomplish anything with that attitude."

"Then I learned negotiating skills. I went into meetings with an attitude that we would work together - and the barriers started coming down."

"I would be lying if I said it was a bed of roses. We still have struggles, but with the skills I have acquired, I have the strength to go on. Some days, I think about how things should be and how much we haven't accomplished. But a very dear friend said to me, `Stop looking at the gravel road ahead, and look at the road you've paved behind you.'"

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Last Revision: September 3, 2003