adhd at school, advocate, crazy thoughts, parenting

Advocate for Your Child: Taming Mama Bear

As parents of neurodiverse children, we are dedicated advocates for them. But sometimes it is hard to dial down the passion into productivity given we are always on our toes, at the ready.

We’ve all been at the grocery store when our little sweetums decides to throw down a doozy of a fit over something as earth shattering as a chipped granola bar. How could they not have anticipated the automatic ‘NO’ they knew was coming in response to their fifteenth million request for another darn stuffie? 

And by ‘fit’ I mean the kind of unconventional tantrum with special emphasis on achieving horrible in-yo-face defiance – reaching an impressively offensive level of hip-hop attitude – with stomps, arm swings and buck ups.  Your nasty little 3 foot Krumper’s bold moves could catch more than your attention and held the power to stun the crowd into utter disbelief.

Maybe I should have been a little discomforted by the stares and open awe of onlookers who were disrupted in their leisurely pursuit of quiet in the aisles. But I wasn’t.

anger-pixabyInstead, it made me angry.

“Can’t you people see I am trying my best?” my wild eyes said.

I frequently struggled to tame the internal mama bear during situations that I felt people didn’t exactly appreciate the glorious wonders of my complicated little cub. I growled protectively, feeling the need to champion and explain his actions. He and I were both being judged. My claws quickly activated, I was ready to defend.

Some special needs are not obvious to the untrained observer. “You have no flippin’ idea!” I wanted to roar ferociously.

The fierce beast made me intense and raging – likely imposing – but ultimately ineffective.

I needed to retract the claws. And recognize that people were on our side.

I easily recall how the hackles rose at pick up as the preschool director motioned me aside, repeatedly asking, “Could I have a moment?”

Did I have to talk to the teacher again about my son’s challenges controlling his emotions or interacting with a classmate? I wondered if I carefully avoided eye contact if I could dodge my own parental weariness and escape the doesn’t-feel-so-friendly chat just this once.

You don’t understand. There are reasons, you see.

He is really tired today. He must be hungry. He was upset.

Maybe it was too loud. Were the lights too bright?

I’m sure he didn’t mean to hit the other child but he couldn’t control his impulses.

In other words, it’s not his fault.

And while all that may be based in truth, he and I still needed to learn how to navigate those situations as best we could. We needed to gain tools and strategies to succeed in as many different circumstances as best we could. We needed to learn how to cope with our anger and frustration to manage the everyday realities as best we could.

I needed to retract the claws. And recognize that people were on our side.

Now, when I invoke the power of the bear spirit in order to advocate, I still call upon the qualities of inner strength, fearlessness, and confidence in myself but I am more conscious of how I project these strengths into our world. A bear is a symbol of more than just nurturance and protection: it also symbolizes patience and connection; confidence and authority; standing against adversity; and taking action and leadership.

cooperateIn retrospect, I appreciate the opportunity I had to chat regularly with my son and his teachers about his successes and challenges. Those reluctant hallway conversations held us all accountable, included everyone in decision making, and made us partners in his success. They were an important part of his growth and built the foundation of communication between allies invested in his success.

I still call upon the qualities of inner strength, fearlessness, and confidence in myself but I am more conscious of how I project these strengths into our world

I owe that preschool director a warm hug (and maybe a stuffed bear?) for being able to deal with the days before I discovered that you can’t let the emotional claws of your need to protect and defend be a barrier of your child’s growth. Before I understood how to best support my child.

Now I know that the key to being an advocate for my child and, ultimately, for my child’s success, is the ability and willingness for all of us to work together as partners.


Find out more about how to effectively advocate for your child in school with mindful attention to the ABCs of Successful School Interviews.



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  • Reply Hannah Spray May 2, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    As a preschool teacher and special needs aide, I have been on the other side of those weary conversations. Trust me, we try our best to keep the balance of when we need to share and when we can let you be. I know it’s not always a good time to chat.

    Something a very talented coworker did when working with little ones who would have strong meltdowns and needed to leave the environment to work through them, seemed very beneficial. Of course, this was consulted with the parents first. She made up little “business cards”, but instead of her business she would include something like (totally making this up based off what little I can remember “Hi, I’m Harper, and my young friend is John. Sometimes John reacts strongly to new stimula. This is how he copes. Please know we are trying our best, and now we need to leave quickly to calm down in a safe place. If you have any concerns or questions, please donmt hesitate to call me at 555-555-5555.”

    You get the jist of it, I’m sure. Basically just a nonverbal way to communicate that you can’t always tell when a child has special needs/abilities, and please to not judge the caregiver or the child, and to trust that the caregiver is handling this unique situation in a way that is the most helpful for the child, although it may not be the solution that other parents might use with their child. (I.e. Going to apologize or talk about what happened with another child is not helpful to this situation, and you’ve got this.)

    I feel like I haven’t done a great job of describing this, but hopefully I made a little by of sense in this novel I just typed up. Lol. Thanks for sharing this piece!

  • Reply Joan May 2, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to comment and give us the perspective from the other side.

    Your insight only serves to emphasize how important to realize that people are on our side and have the best interest of our child at heart! It is so important to learn how to work together and those difficult chats are because we are doing the work and growing together! It really did serve as the base for learning how to advocate effectively.

    I like the idea of business cards that increase awareness and reduce the judgement in the situation. Parents need to be able to focus on the child that needs their support rather than what someone else thinks. 😄

  • Reply kristen visser May 11, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    I absolutely love this post. I am not alone 🙂 My daughter who is 3.5 is autistic (just diagnosed in September) and things are not always easy. We will go for a walk or to the store and she will have her outbursts, not always but sometimes, and we sit here going “did she want to go a different way?, is it too loud? is she tired? hungry?” it gets exhausting trying to figure it out and all the while people staring and I am quick to judge that they are judging me or don’t understand meanwhile that is not always the case as I have had a few mommas tell me “ive been there”.

  • Reply janine a May 12, 2016 at 6:15 am

    awesome post, interesting take on the topic- i agree!

  • Reply Victoria Ess May 14, 2016 at 9:16 am

    I love this post! It’s really great that your son has such supportive and understanding teachers, and it’s terrible that people can seem to be so judge-y. I’m glad you are able to remind yourself that you are doing your best.

  • Reply Sarah L May 21, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    I understand the mommy bear wanting to protect her cub. I’m glad you’ve come to terms with it.

  • Reply Cynthia W May 27, 2016 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks for this – very inspiring! I agree wholeheartedly.

  • Reply Krista M May 28, 2016 at 9:42 am

    My son has autism & the grocery store is his main place to have meltdowns. Some days are so hard. One day I was in the line-up with him & he was being aggressive, I was both mad & upset feeling everyone staring at us, and suddenly this little older lady just came up to me & embraced me. She just held me & said it will be ok. Wow. It was a special moment I’ll never forget.

    • Reply Joan May 28, 2016 at 2:52 pm

      What kindness and understanding she showed to you and your family. She clearly acknowledged that she understood how hard it is to be the Mama to a neurodiverse child. She will never know that her kindness has become a fond memory for you – but you sharing your story may encourage people to be that person for someone else. Thank you.

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