Part 2 of discussion…
5. Walk a mile in the other side’s moccasins.
It will not hurt to indulge your thoughts about how things are for the other side. In fact, experimenting with perspective is necessary to brainstorm solutions or to decide the order in which you will play your cards.
Spend sustained time at the school. Volunteer in your child’s classroom and other classrooms. Watch the kids on the playground and in the lunchroom. What really goes on inside school? How tired are you at the end of a school day? How tired must the teachers, the aid, the principal, and your child be?
On the other side, encourage teachers and other school persons to visit you at home in different circumstances, so they know what your life is like, too.
Do not forget to sell your solutions. When we want interventions for our children that are designed to maximize potential, do not forget that IDEA will not support us. Find a way to make your proposal appealing for the school district.
When Amanda was in Early Childhood, the teacher (a wonderful woman) used her tried and true methods for disciplining Amanda. While these methods may work well with other kids, they were not appropriate for Amanda. Instead of objecting to this procedure, we offered a suggestion that we said would make things easier for the teacher. Framing our suggestions this way made it easier to implement.
Well-reasoned but abstract ideas about how things should be have little application unless you can offer practical advice about how they can be. It is not enough to know how you think things should be done, although this is an excellent place to start. To make workable suggestions, you need to understand how the people involved can do this job within the context of their day, training and budget.
Learn what they have to do and how they do it. Use that knowledge to advocate. Offer practical ideas about how to address problem areas.
It is harder to ignore the problem-finder if he or she is also the solution-giver. Conversely, it is easy to ignore people who do not know what they are talking about. Parents of special needs kids know this better than anyone else. We are constantly told how to do things by people who have no idea about the realities of living with our children. We rightfully ignore those people. School personnel will ignore you unless you understand the realities of what they do.
6. Listen actively, especially to the things you do not want to hear.
No one is all knowing. Really. As much as I know about my child, and I know an awful lot about her, I still have things to learn. To my knowledge, no one has yet descended from the sky.
Often the solutions we seek are stranded on the barren land of “What We Do Not Want to Hear”, and are calling out to us.
Hear them. Listen to everything with a whole heart and a whole head. If you find yourself getting angry or defensive because you disagree with what someone is telling you, or because the person is talking to you in an offensive way, pay attention to your reaction. When we feel defensive, we stop listening. We begin to think about a rebuttal. Our thoughts are no longer on the issue, but how we will respond to it.
If you find your temperature rising, disengage your ego from what is happening. Breathe deep. Calmly restate what you heard like this: “I want to understand your position, Ms. Jones. Are you saying _____________?” Then restate what you thought she said, not what you thought she meant.
She will confirm or deny your recollection. Keep at this until you are sure you understand her position. Only then can you calmly state your position. Often, what we think we hear, we did not hear. Or the other party innocently misspoke.
These oversights can be remedied easily. If not, then everyone at the table fully understands what the disagreement is about, and can try to deal with it. In addition, hearing all points repeatedly allows even the most uncomfortable of them to sink in enough to be objectively evaluated.
7. Encourage everyone to love your child, then let them!
Pediatricians and child psychologists have a term of art called “gate-keeping”. Gate keeping occurs when people set themselves up like watchdogs over a child, guarding the gate against intruders. Sometimes nurses and doctors will gate-keep a particularly sick child. They become convinced that they are the only ones who can really act in the child’s best interest and actively discourage others from helping.
However, no one can gate-keep over a sick or disabled child the way parents can. We are stunning in this ability. Nature has blessed us with innumerable instincts for just this task. When is gate-keeping appropriate? When it protects your child from a real harm. When is it not appropriate? When it gets in the way of loving or talented people who can help.
Parents must strive to maintain their sense of judgment. They must be able to tell the difference between real harm and potential or imagined harm. If we treat every person who disagrees with us as an enemy, we will dull our instincts so we will not be able to detect the real enemies in our presence.
A school speech therapist told the mother of a nonverbal autistic boy that there was no hope for him because she could not reach him. She told the boy’s mother: “You know, these autistic kids just don’t get it!” This statement demonstrated her dangerous ignorance about autism. She may as well have said, “You know those deaf kids? You talk to them, but they don’t hear you!” This woman was a real threat to that boy. She would not help him. In fact, she caused him to regress. Gate keeping was a wonderful skill for his mother as she strove to get another therapist for her son.
However, if a knowledgeable educator has a different approach or opinion from ours, this does not make her the enemy. Do not gate-keep around those people – they are invaluable, untapped resources.
Let them close to your child to see the wonders and beauty you do. When they learn to love your child from their heart, they will be motivated to do what they can to help and will listen to what you have to say. If you push them away, they will never get a chance to find out what they and your child are capable of doing. Everyone loses that way.
I am convinced that children can never be loved too much or by too many people. Love will move mountains. Let it in.
8. Have a little faith.
As a lawyer, I have remarkable faith in the human spirit. I believe that most people are good at heart and will do their best if they are given an opportunity.
In the field of education, it makes sense to be optimistic. Think about it. No one becomes a teacher, an aid, an administrator or a facilitator because of the money, the hours or the Nike endorsements. They do this because they want to make a difference to children.
Of course, intelligent people will disagree about the proper way to make that difference. Those persons closest to the children will have a different perspective than administrators.
Very few, if any, of the people you will meet in your child’s school is out to hurt anyone. Be alert for the occasional bad apple.
Generally, give your child’s team some credit for acting in good faith. If they need education, supply it. If you disagree, try to work it out without getting personal. Do not demonize well-intentioned people. Utilize them. Even if they have priorities that you cannot share, they can turn out to be of great help to your child.
Your child’s IEP should never be a gamble. IEP meetings should not turn into a game of nerves with everyone trying to guess who is bluffing, betting or folding on the strength of their guess. An IEP should be a strategic meeting where a talented advocate need not lie about his or her hand, but can play any facts to the child’s advantage.
Keep the game fair and in good spirits, when possible. Know what your goals are and work them. Many roads lead to the same place. Many different cards can win the game.
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