Let’s start with the bottom line: if you have a child with autism or other special needs, you must read the hot-off-the-press “The Everyday Advocate: Standing Up For Your Child With Autism of Other Special Needs” by Areva Martin.

The absolute only issue I can find with the book is that it’s American, and therefore the legislation, School Board procedures, etc. aren’t necessarily the same here in Canada. Other than that, it is the perfect textbook for any parent raising a special needs child.

Areva Martin is a legal authority (who, notably, doesn’t endorse unnecessary litigation), autism expert, and mother of three (including a son with autism). She has appeared on programs such as Dr. Phil, and has now translated all of her knowledge and experiences into a must-read book for parents.

The title doesn’t even do the book justice. Not only does “The Everyday Advocate” walk parents through the child’s diagnosis and therapy right through the teen years, but it’s like a life guide for the parents themselves, with sections on dealing with denial and grief, keeping your relationship with your partner strong, helping siblings adjust, balancing a career and a child with autism, and financing therapy.

I think Martin is right on when she says that when it comes to autism, “too much speculation about causes and cures is a distraction”. She goes on to say: “The parents I know who focus on addressing the practical issues – such as accessing services and integrating their child into their family and community – express the greatest level of acceptance and the least amount of anxiety and stress.”

She even offers word-for-word scripts to help parents with sticky situations: a restaurant patron complaining about your child, an employer who is wary of flextime, or school staff who question your child’s inclusion.

To be totally honest, I was more and more relieved the further I progressed in the book, as I know some parents believe that “advocacy” is defined as “calling the media and/or Superintendent of the School Board whenever mildly displeased with something”. Martin’s “7 Principles of Advocacy” (e.g. “Take Responsibility”, “Speak With Authority”, and “Document”) are so much more valuable than that sort of reactive thinking.

Don’t get me wrong: I know there are situations where parents are rightfully displeased that their children are not being provided with placements and programs to which they are legally entitled, and there is a time and a place for working your way up the chain with such issues. Martin shares a wealth of legal and personal information about safeguarding your child’s rights should this be the case.

My bias is that I work in an inclusive, exceptionality-friendly school, and in fact for a School Board that I consider to be a model of Special Education programming, and I know that such cases (where students’ rights are truly being denied) are the very rare exception rather than the rule.

This book is an absolute must-read for parents of special needs children, as it covers both the big picture and the small details.

Dr. Phil sums it up best (of course): “If your family is facing special challenges, Areva Martin’s new book is THE guide for getting the best life possible for your child. Her personal and professional experiences with autism make her expertise invaluable.”

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