Submarine Parenting toward College Success: Starting with the IEP and Working Their Way Forward!

As a general rule in our society, many parents struggle with acknowledging that there is anything ?wrong? with their kids who have disabilities, but at the same time live in fear that they can?t protect them forever.

Often, if parents even acknowledge their child?s developmental deficits, they will tend to hope and believe it is something they will outgrow, taking whatever steps necessary to ?protect them? from the stigma of being viewed as different or less than their peers.

Other parents assume guilt and torment that their child?s limited life path is somehow their fault for what was passed on to them genetically, or believe their kid?s behaviors are the result of what someone or a group did to them.

In both instances, this approach can easily turn into unnecessary over-parenting protection in an effort to predict and control perceived risks to their children safety, sense of identity and social inclusion/exclusion.

As well meaning as these attempts at shaping their child?s future might seem, they must stop travelling down this path.? Over involved parents get ?beat up? too much, and in my workshops focused on this topic, I share the many names which parents get called, such as Helicopter Parents, Bulldozer Parents, Snowplow Parents, and worse.

Instead of maintaining ongoing commitments that limit parental and special needs children?s growing up options, I advise that they should work at becoming Submarine Parents who are both informed and engaged to ?dive? down and ?cruise? along with the natural flow of their child with disabilities life development.

Submarine Parents are able to let themselves and their children have a life, but know when to put the periscope up to look around, assess what is going on and then make a determination if their children want or need them to get involved.

If the need is present, Submarine parents ?surface? and ?cruise? in for a closer look, but will only intervene (not interfere!) if that want and need is there.? If it?s not, then Submarine Parents ?dive? again with the comfort of knowing they are still prepared and ready to engage when they are wanted or needed.

My message to parents struggling to sort these conflicting concerns and find better balance is to remember that you still have all the big guns of parental advocacy at your disposal and don?t have to relinquish any of them! However, I would like to show that you likely won?t need to over-engage them as often, if you can open up to honest, personal insights and begin let go of your worst-case scenario fears.

Successful Submarine parenting means not only acquiring new coping skills and strategies, but choosing to use them only when the level of conflicts makes it necessary, especially as a child gets older and are faced with more complex social, learning or adjustment issues.

Let?s face it, there are many factors affecting the way a person turns out as an adult.? Neurology is one critical factor, along with societal expectations, excess technology use, dietary choices, chemical insults, and other outside, non-controllable influences.? Simply, growing up in the modern era with all these aspects to mediate has made effective parenting more conflicting and complicated than ever.

Because of these factors, many parents become afraid to look forward, plan for options and realistically face what their children will be dealing with when they become adults. Therefore, instead of automatically thinking that you, your kids, society or just one group of kids did it all wrong, I get parents to look at how they can help their kids be successful based on their individual strength and ability-based capabilities.

The following examples will help everyone understand and hopefully become better prepared for this mindset by considering the consequences of over-parenting and underestimating their child?s ability to handle life challenges:

  • How this will affect them?
  • Why do they need to understand their rights?
  • How does this help them advocate for themselves?
  • How can becoming empowered makes my child a stronger and more confident individual?
  • How expecting and allowing my child to become empowered, makes me a stronger and more confident parent?

On a personal level, many of my colleagues and associates don?t know that in addition to being a person with multiple hidden and physical disabilities myself, I have also raised two successful adult children with hidden disabilities.

Throughout their lives, I have worked very hard to help them understand how having these conditions affects them as it relates to their interaction with others, importance of doing all assigned school work, and after teaching them the basics of an IEP, having them participate in the development of that document and annual meeting.

In order to begin creating the ability to stand on their own, parents must inform them of the purpose of testing, understanding what the results mean/don?t mean, and the importance of active participation in their educational development.

That means that parents should become an expert first.? To become a more informed expert parent, please start with reviewing the following article, which does not include any statement saying your child cannot attend an IEP, no matter what their age or functional capabilities :

Furthermore, as your child turns 10, they should begin to become included in the IEP process, such as being present in some planning meetings with teachers, especially if they are old enough to understand. Parents should use their own good judgment here.

Additionally, parents should begin to have discussions with them about what they are going to do to challenge or make their children more comfortable in taking necessary, calculated life risks. Doing so with plenty of practice and encouragement enables our kids to become the confident and successful people they are capable of becoming. Here is an article that helps in this regard: (

Personally, my kids are diagnosed with similar disabilities to mine, but are also somewhat different.? My 35-year old son, is employed as a Business Operations Manager, earned a Bachelor?s of Science in Marketing, is diagnosed with Asperger?s (Level I Autism (, Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder Combind Type (ADHD, ?, and several specific Learning Disabilities (LD, and Bipolar II disorder ( Diagnostically, he is almost my clone!

My 31- year old daughter works as a Supervisor of Social Workers at a large hospital, holds a Master?s in Social Work (MSW), and is diagnosed with several types of LD, ADHD Combined-type and Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities.? She has become a master of self-accommodation as she has figured out a system that enables her to be a high achieving professional.

Both of my kids were formally diagnosed early, with my son being diagnosed at 18 months. This was critical in his ability to achieve his high quality of life, as it allowed him to receive early intervention all the way through his school years.? My daughter was diagnosed in fourth grade, receiving timely interventions throughout the rest of her school career.

Both of my kids continued to use self-advocacy tools and strategies in college, as they knew how to recognize, request and utilize appropriate accommodations. An important key to their independence and success has been their willingness and skill in being confident people who are not afraid to disclose when appropriate My son continues to receive accommodations in the workplace (

Over the course of my 33 years of professional experience, I have yet to review or see a diagnostic evaluation of a person in their adult years containing only one diagnostic category of functional impact.? My preference is to look at all the related symptoms, reviewing specific clinical factors that match specific diagnostic criteria, and then targeting needs/strategies to access or receive services.

As children move beyond public educational settings, it is also important for parents to know that colleges are not responsible for making everything work for a student with disabilities.? The following article provides some tips on what post-secondary institutions can and can?t do for students with diagnosed conditions, helping show what is and is not a realistic expectation from parents:

Ultimately, self-advocacy ( is perhaps one of the most critical skills your child can learn as a person, especially as a person with a disability.? Skillful practice during the child?s formative years makes it easier for them to know when it is ?appropriate? for deciding when and how to disclose to an educator, employer, friend, or even someone they are in a relationship with.

As a short review, in order to become an effective and healthy Submarine parent make sure to:

  • Know your facts about special education laws, services, supports, parental rights for securing a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.
  • Start kids out at a young age through involvement in:
    • Meetings
    • Understanding their condition
    • Realizing their symptomology
  • Help children, teens and young adults understand disabilities (not differences) are recognized medical conditions defined by law as disabilities, which entitles them to rights and protections guaranteed by law.

Our kids can call their disability a difference with others when they are unsure of peer understanding, but they must also be brave enough to think like a critical thinker ( knowing when, how or if they will disclose, which are skills that need to be taught.

Furthermore, developing and skillfully using critical thinking strategies will help our kids realize that there are always at least two ways to think about one?s position in life!? Whether or not our young adult children take classes on Critical Thinking in college, we must try to encourage them to practice them throughout their young lives, and getting them ready for this eventuality will be a benefit now- for everyone in the family!

Author: Justin Coller