Blog:  The Inside Track

Advocacy for One Child Becomes Advocacy for All Children

The Inside Track blog post by Lindsay Jones
Nov 12, 2014

Kristin Kane

In September, I went to a hearing in Congress called The Science of Dyslexia. It was an amazing event that brought attention to the challenges kids with dyslexia face in school, work and life.

Experts, advocates and parents came from near and far to be part of the event. Members of Congress shared their own stories (and even broke down into tears!) about the need to support our kids. There were so many amazing parent advocates there, but there is one story I have to share.

Kristin Kane, a Mother on a Mission
Kristin Kane and her family live in Virginia. Her son is a brilliant, enthusiastic kid who loves science. When he was 4, he could explain the theory of gravity! But he was also struggling with his ABCs.

In kindergarten, Kristin began asking the teachers and staff at her son’s school about how she could help. She was told her son just needed more time. But by second grade, her son was unable to read and barely able to identify letter sounds. Kristin knew something wasn’t right.

So, like many parents, Kristin began her journey as an advocate. She had her son evaluated (he was identified with dyslexia). She learned the law. She set out to get her son services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Once her son got the services and accommodations he needed, he started to shine. Now in middle school, he’s applying to a competitive magnet school for science.

From One Child to All Children
But Kristin’s story doesn’t stop with just her child.

The elementary school her son attended was a “Title I” school. That means that over 40 percent of the students were from low-income families. As Kristin went to her son’s IEP meetings, she started to notice other parents leaving their meetings dejected, confused and sometimes even angry. Some of the parents worked two or three jobs. Some couldn’t speak English. Others were overwhelmed by all the confusing jargon.

Having learned about the process herself, she knew how difficult it was. How does the average parent even stand a chance? she thought to herself. That’s when she decided to act.

Kristin had always been involved in the school’s PTA. But now she took the lead to network with parents of children with learning and attention issues in the school. She started a special education committee. Her first victory was small, but significant—getting the school to acknowledge that these parents needed help.

She then moved to a bigger stage. Around 2012, Kristin helped start a chapter of Decoding Dyslexia in Virginia. She and other parents started raising awareness with schools and parents. They pushed lawmakers to issue proclamations and talk about dyslexia. Today, Kristin and her fellow advocates are working hard to change the laws of Virginia to recognize dyslexia and require teacher training.

The Thin Line of Advocacy
I recently caught up with Kristin and asked her why she moved beyond advocating for her child to advocating for all kids. She told me it came down to the moment she realized she was not alone. So many other parents were facing the same challenges (and also celebrating the same successes!).

“The line between helping your own child and helping another child is so thin it’s almost invisible,” she said. It takes both kinds of advocacy to help kids with learning and attention issues thrive.

Today, in our interconnected world of social media, any parent can get involved. The Kristin Kanes of the world can join up and push for change. The need is there, and you can make a difference.

The first step is to get started. That can be in your school, as Kristin did. Or it can be about joining a larger movement. I encourage you to sign up for advocacy updates in our Action Center to get involved. When you take even a small step to help kids with learning and attention issues, you’re already making a big difference.

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About the Blogger

Portrait of Lindsay Jones

Lindsay Jones is vice president and chief policy and advocacy officer for the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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