What Becky Heye learned—and learned very early on—is that nothing comes easily for the parents of a special-needs child. Every child needs an advocate, and the best advocate is always a parent.

Long before diagnoses of autism and autism spectrum were common, Becky knew her son Jason was developing along a different path.

“When he was very young, he didn’t speak,” Becky says. “I thought that by age 2, he should be forming words. But he was my first child, so I didn’t really have a comparison. When I asked pediatrician, he said children all develop at their own rates.”

Becky wasn’t happy that her concerns were dismissed, so she sought answers. A speech and hearing institute in Houston identified the toddler’s auditory processing issues and told Becky that the Houston school district had resources available for such children.

“We found a great speech therapist at local elementary school, who worked with Jason from age 3-9,” Becky explains. “He was the youngest student they ever had. It was a big help for Jason, and for me. I would have the therapist come work with us during the summer, even, to keep him on track.”

Even now, years later, that speech therapist remains a family friend. But none of this would have happened without Becky’s tireless advocacy. That continued throughout Jason’s academic career.

“By the third grade, the public school just wasn’t working out,” Becky says. “So we moved him to a private school with smaller class sizes and more one-on-one instruction. They taught things like organizational skills, too. Later on, we moved him to a preparatory school—which was a challenge, but Jason decided he was up to the challenge. It was sink-or-swim, and he chose to swim.”

Though some of his teachers predicted Jason would never complete his education, he graduated from high school and then attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. He earned his degree and even went to graduate school.

It wasn’t until very recently, at age 33, that Jason was diagnosed with autism.

“That explained so much,” Becky says. “It answered so many questions for us. We knew things were hard for Jason; we just didn’t know why.”

The bigger lesson, she adds, is that every child needs an advocate—a combination spokesperson, cheerleader and defender.

“Parents have to be involved,” she says. “You’re the only person why can do it.”

TPPF’s Erin Davis Valdez agrees.

“Parents should be the ultimate decision makers when it comes to their children’s educations,” she says. “When the Legislature comes together to draft the budget every other year, it can sometimes lose sight of this. Policy makers tend to forget that the goal of education is helping each child to realize his or her potential, not merely to prop up the system for another two years. This is best achieved by giving parents more choices, not fewer.”

Empowering parents is a key part of TPPF’s Liberty Action Agenda for the legislative session. To learn more, click here: