Educating Yourself (Yet Again)

I attended a recent conference one week and then the next week I walked into a classroom for yet another class. I was reminded of why I feel educating myself is so important.

Once my child began services for developmental delays, and ultimately autism, it didn’t occur to me at the time that my autism education was going to be ongoing. Early on, I simply didn’t realize that my education was never going to stop.

Almost eight years into our autism journey, I still have a strong desire to learn more about how to deal with my child, learn about new techniques and strategies, and learn about new scientific studies relating to the cause and treatments for autism. Turned out, this autism journey was not going to stop after a few conferences. I was going to educate myself again and again and again.

When did I start? What was my first class?

I didn’t leap immediately into the world of autism seminars and conferences. However, when I was finally ready to “get myself out there,” I landed at a class offered by my child’s regional center. This class was designed to teach parents (as well as educators, facilitators, or anyone with an interest in special needs) how to navigate the special needs system in the state of California.

What am I doing now?

I’m taking the same navigating the special needs system class again – six years later.

Why?

Because things have changed in the last six years.

Since I realized that my education will never stop, I’m constantly looking around to see just what I need to do next. After receiving a notice from my child’s regional center about this class, I said to myself, “I already took that class, but perhaps now is a good time to take it again.”

Why retake a class like this one?

One reason why I went back is because the economy is much different today than it was in 2004, the year my child began his services. Just within this last year, for example, there have been two changes in my child’s services that relate directly to today’s economy. To put it simply, my child began his services during a completely different economic climate. Back then, he not only needed more services as a toddler/younger child but it seemed like whenever we asked for a new service, he got it. My child began at 14 months old and our feeling, which was supported by the regional center, was to throw whatever we could at him.

Now that I am attending the regional center class again, I can learn just how the regional centers are attempting to deal with the economy in 2012. Their approach has to be different due to less funding, less personnel, and more clients.

Are there other reasons I take classes (and take some more than once)?

I want to continue to expand my knowledge but I also want to reaffirm my knowledge of autism and the autism system.

Why do I do this?

I talk to other parents and I fear giving new parents bad information.

Our autism community is very good at information-sharing, and I want to do my part. Yet, I need to make sure my part is accurate. In order to properly help a parent, I need to make sure I’m giving out correct information.

I can also learn terms or criteria that have been recently updated. For example, the term “mental retardation” is now considered outdated. And, in a few months, the criteria for a person landing on the autism spectrum is about to change. I want to know about that change because it has to do with my child.

Additionally, since I am out there explaining things to other parents, I may discover better ways to explain the sometimes complicated autism-related terminology. Learning about autism is very overwhelming to new parents. I know, I’ve been there.

What is my advice?

I encourage parents to take classes, attend seminars, or visit their regional center library and talk to a resource specialist. I try to convince them that they have a responsibility to learn not only about autism itself but about the autism system, the one that provides services to your child. You need to know how “the system” ticks. For example, there is a specific way (in California) that our regional center system functions. If you don’t learn this, you’re trying to find services for your child in dark.

I encourage parents to be proactive. And, in order to honestly do that, I believe you have to know exactly what you’re talking about. Which means you must educate yourself. There is a lot out there, and much of it is free. You just have to get there. 

In my next blog, I will discuss some details about California’s regional center system. What exactly is a regional center? What do they do? And, how parents can avoid problems when dealing with their regional center.

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