Driven career professionals often struggle to figure out a work life balance that doesn’t leave them riddled with guilt. Unfortunately, for parents of kids with disabilities the increased demands can make them feel like caring for their special needs child(ren) means they must automatically reduce or even eliminate their career goals. Indeed, they often feel the pressure to automatically blunt the trajectory of their career in an attempt to demonstrate full commitment to their household’s unique needs and challenges. For those who view attentive parenting of a special needs child and aggressive pursuit of a fulfilling and ambitious career as a binary choice, they need look no further than the compelling example of disability rights advocate and award winning attorney/legal commentator Areva Martin to shatter that myth.
When her son Marty was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, Areva found herself struggling to navigate the complex labyrinth of relevant services which eventually led her to develop the Special Needs Network, Inc. to not just serve her needs, but primarily to provide a network of support for families affected by developmental disabilities.
As a disability rights advocate, she has mentored and befriended many parents of special needs children and can actively relate to the unique work life balance challenges that the experience brings, and her message is both clear and determined – “Parenting a special needs child doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your career.” Indeed, she doesn’t just say it, she’s done it. Graciously, Areva spoke with me recently to share a few nuggets of advice for other parents struggling to manage the sometimes overwhelming demands of both work and home.
Know the Law
Parents of children with special needs are often left to maneuver a laundry list of requirements in order to sufficiently support their children. From navigating school admissions and identifying appropriate therapies to securing necessary testing and establishing an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the demands on a parent’s time and financial resources can be significant to say the least. Identifying sources of support is a critical step in relieving the very real drain on financial and other limited resources. Areva advises parents to learn their rights early so they avoid wasting precious time and money on services that may be available to them at little or no cost. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that applies to public schools in every state throughout the country. The law makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities including autism and a range of developmental, emotional and learning disabilities, and it ensures special education and related services to those children from age 2 to 21. Beyond federal laws, Areva recommends that parents make time to talk to other parents, administrators and officials to familiarize themselves early on with any applicable state, local, even district level regulations or policies that might provide support or create barriers for their particular situation. Indeed, knowledge is power and taking the time to equip yourself with the knowledge early on is key.
While it may be tempting for parents of special needs children to “suffer in silence” rather than share concerns, issues or problems, Areva warns against that urge and instead encourages parents to be open with friends and colleagues.
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