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Hidden Gems: Meet Nicole Santiago of Family ADDventures Advocacy

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicole Santiago.

Hi Nicole, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I failed out of college twice! It took me 7 years to finish my undergrad degree and 13 months to complete a 42 credit combined master’s degree and certificate program. Back in college, I didn’t know I had ADHD.

I started my career as a teacher but left the Spanish classroom in 2019 after 12 years. I loved teaching but had little time for my three small children. I was also advocating for my eldest son who has ADHD. Trying to get him all the accommodations and school support he needed was a full-time job.

My biz evolution is interesting. I started a blog about ADHD parenting in 2017. Then, I hired a coach who helped me take a “sabbatical” from teaching and start a business. Finally, we moved our entire family from Washington, DC to San Antonio, Texas to enact the plan. I began as a Spanish tutor with the goal of operating my business online from Puerto Rico (while simultaneously exposing my children to their heritage and culture). The same summer we planned to move, the former governor of the island was overthrown. Family members on the island pleaded, “Don’t come.”

I’ve evolved from a Spanish tutor to an executive function/ADHD coach and family coach, and now I’m a full-blown Special Education advocate. I’ve written a book about ADHD parenting and a second about educational options for children with learning differences. Two other entrepreneurs and I host a podcast for women with businesses and families (currently on hiatus).

Educating my three children through the pandemic was an interesting kink in my business plan. Honestly, expect the unexpected as an entrepreneur and it gets easier. Also, look for mentors and others who have done what you want to do. Their knowledge and support are priceless.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The biggest struggles for me were the lack of a network and child care. When we planned to move to Puerto Rico, we had spent time on the island to find our community. We also had extended family to help us navigate island life.

Once the government became unstable we were no longer sure Puerto Rico was right for us (although we had sold our home in DC so staying put was NOT AN OPTION). We were blessed to visit friends in San Antonio that same summer. During that visit, our family realized how much this city had to offer and that we loved it here.

We’ve been building our network slowly. Challenge number 2: childcare, educating kids, raising kids, it’s all been wild through this pandemic. Supporting my family has been a huge challenge while trying to build my business. I realize it will take longer to reach my goals and that’s okay.

As you know, we’re big fans of Family ADDventures Advocacy. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
I love sitting across the table from other educators and making decisions in the best interest of a family (the student and parent). I’ve sat in IEP/ARD (Individual Education Plan/Admission Review and Dismissal) meetings where there were 13 other professionals with just a parent and me. As a former educator myself, I know the jargon, procedures, and what schools can provide to students.

I’m a super creative person and I pride myself on finding unorthodox ways to prove a child requires a certain accommodation based on a diagnosis, evaluation, or other data point. Many times I’ve found, as soon as a school knows my client is showing up with an advocate, they “prepare for battle.” However, “going to battle” is not the way I approach advocacy. My job as an advocate is to make sure the parent’s voice is heard and the child receives the education they are entitled to under the law.

I express and amplify the family’s needs and desires. As a member of COPAA (Coalition of Parent Attorneys and Advocates), I continue to network with attorneys and learn the law. I only charge my clients for the time I actually spend on their cases. I think this is important. Sometimes you’ll need a quick fix, a letter, diagnosis referral, or a simple request to help your child. It doesn’t have to be expensive to fulfill a child’s educational needs.

So maybe we end on discussing what matters most to you and why?
My lived experience as a woman with ADHD, and a parent of three children with different learning disabilities makes me well-rounded and understanding. Mental health is absolutely my top concern. We are living in a current mental health crisis for our children and adolescents.

I am constantly sharing resources for parents and children with LD on my social media platforms. I’ve made some great connections with local occupational therapists, psychiatrists, counselors, and even the Mental Health court here in SA, TX so I can direct my clients to sought-after resources. We lost my brother-in-law to police violence and mental health issues in 2017. I know how easy it is with a learning disability and/or brain difference to fall into traps of addiction and low self-esteem. Anger, hopelessness, and false beliefs can develop around an individual’s perceived capabilities.

If you’re unaware that you have a learning disability, statistically your chances for success are lower. I want to change that! Early diagnosis and intervention at school help children build their self-esteem. We have to end the stigma around disabilities, including invisible ones like ADHD, Autism, and dyslexia. A partner and I developed a mental health curriculum we’ve sold to some school districts, as well. Mental health is everything.

Pricing:

  • $85-ARD/IEP request (Spec Ed services)
  • $90/1 time consultation
  • $450-5 hours prepaid contract

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Angel Santiago

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2 Comments

  1. Mimi

    February 22, 2022 at 6:13 pm

    love this article!! thanks for interviewing her, an interesting niche!

    • Nicole

      May 3, 2022 at 5:15 pm

      Thank you, Mimi! I appreciate you reading and sharing!

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