“Welcome to Holland” and Parent Advocates

“Us versus them”

That’s often the mentality going into a difficult IEP meetings that involves lawyers, multiple service providers, and/or parent advocates. The other day, I caught myself thinking I would walk into a meeting, tell parents my testing results, and inform them what their child is or is not qualified for. I went to school and I’m the professional.

Please (for the few readers of mine), forgive me for my thoughtlessness. How arrogant I was becoming that day. O_0

I climbed down off my high horse and tried to put myself in the parents’ shoes. I was reminded of a short essay called “Welcome to Holland” written in 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. Read it. It’s a great metaphor-rich story from a parent perspective on having a child with disabilities. The author expresses that it’s like planning an exciting vacation to Italy, but instead you land and must stay in Holland.

“So [now] you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.”


As an SLP, I’m one of those “people you would never have met” in the story. To parents, I’m providing a service that enables their child to communicate effectively and tap into their son or daughter’s personality in a way that not many professions allow. The moment I forget the parent on the other side of the table ‘missed’ their Italy destination, that’s when I stumble into the trap of serving my egotistical self first.

Often times, parents bring advocates to meetings. These individuals are often parents of children with special needs themselves, just wanting to reach out and help others advocate for services. I am a full supporter of this. I’ve heard stories of nasty meetings dictating, rather than discussing, what a child does or does not need; how sad that it came to that. As long as it doesn’t become a hostile takeover from either party, I’m all for bringing a third party in. I’m only interested in providing the best service I possibly can to serve the student in the best ways I know how. I never mind if a parent brings an advocate. I gladly make extra copies for them, offer a hand-shake, and ask if they need clarification on anything. These individuals are often more receptive to what’s being said, and can help parents deal with changes or new information.

I found this great website with Parent Advocacy Resources. Feel free to share with families and clients.

Parent advocates can serve as excellent ‘tour guides of Holland’ for parents of children with disabilities, especially as it relates to communication. I hope I’m professional enough to connect and understand where parents are coming from, and help add to their new adventures along the way.

 “If you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.”



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