Jen Dryer is a parent advocate and coach for parents of higher needs children, with over 20 years of experience working with children, families, and teachers, through her work in both NYC and DC as a public school teacher (NYC), staff developer (NYC and DC), and parent advocate (in DC). She is mother to two sweet, loving, and energetic boys, the younger of whom has autism and ADHD and has greatly benefited from (free!) therapy since he was 18 months old.
A graduate of Brown University (BA) and Columbia University’s Teachers College (MA), Jen is a native New Yorker who grew up in the northern suburbs and spent 13 years living in NYC before moving to DC in January 2009. Prior to her work as a parent advocate and educational consultant, Jen was an educator for 13 years in NYC public schools, and 5 years in DC area public, charter and private schools, as 6-12th grade teacher and as an upper elementary and middle school Literacy Coach/Staff Developer, coaching and supporting teachers and school administration. She has also been a yoga instructor since 2006 and teaches both adults and children, which has given her tremendous tools for facing the challenges of raising a child with special needs (and for navigating parenting in general!). When she’s not working with families or teaching, she can often be found practicing yoga, cycling, walking, hiking, reading, writing or playing tennis.
In her role as a parent advocate and educational consultant, Jen always seeks to empower and guide parents so that their child can get the services he or she needs as quickly and effectively as possible. She also coaches parents in adapting structures and supports provided by therapists to daily home life, and helps parents develop structures and supports at home to allow their child to grow, learn, and become more independent. Services she offers may include: helping families evaluate test results; developing strategic plans for ensuring that your child gets the support he or she needs; navigating the emotional and logistical roller coaster of parenting a neurodivergent child; occasionally advocating at your side during key meetings with evaluators, service providers and/or school-based staff; explaining the nuances of the various rights to services and support that parents rarely know they have; and, co-leading group classes for parents of higher needs children.
We asked her several questions aimed at helping you and your family! Check out what she said below.
My top 3 tips for parents are:
– Work hard to really “see” the child you have in front of you, rather than the child you were envisioning and hoping for, seeing what makes them tick and what their real strengths and challenges are;- Encourage your child whenever you can by noticing what they’re doing, and be specific whenever you can (ex., “I noticed you put your dish in the sink without anyone asking you to! That’s so helpful! Thank you!”), avoiding blanket praise (like, “good job!”).
– Try to find time to connect and play with your child regularly 1-1 for a short protected time; the payoff when a child feels connected can be quite significant!
My guidance for parents navigating Covid-19 this summer is 1) self-care: be gentle with yourself and take a LOT of deep breaths, and try to tuck in regular times to check in with yourself and/or find a small moment for yourself daily (this can be as simple as a moment listening to or singing a song you love); 2) get outside with your child whenever possible, safely of course! 3) have a regular dance, singing or music parties to help keep regular joyful moments with your child(ren) — music is a fantastic outlet for children; 4) if you want to set some goals for the summer with your child, keep them simple and achievable
Especially during these challenging Covid-19 times, setting up ways to support the work that your child’s therapists are doing in your home is ever more important, to both help keep sane and to keep your child’s growth trajectory continuing to rise. To support parents in doing so, I’ve collaborated with Gabriele Nicolet, a fantastic local speech and language pathologist and family communication specialist, to provide online classes on practical strategies for parents of higher needs children aged 3-12. The class series, called “Raising Orchids,” has been a wonderful experience and a great way to find community with parents who get what you’re going through while learning some concrete strategies to make life at home run more smoothly and better help your child grow. We’re currently running a session, but if you’re interested in the next one, or in getting any support for creating structures and resources to use at home, please reach out! You can visit my website at jendryer.com or send me an email at Jendryer.firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also find me at facebook.com/jendryerparentadvocate/.