I have backpacks ready, the children have new sneakers, and we have teacher names and know where the bus stops. Aside from beginning of the school year jitters, a touch of anxiety about a new school, new teacher and new classroom, and a few predicted meltdowns, we are ready. A new school means a bit a butterflies for this mom of a special education child. No longer playing ball with a few new players, the whole team has changed, the stadium is different, and new developmental challenges will be thrown our way.
My biggest anxiety is how familiar will the new team be with my son’s file? Do they understand where on the spectrum he is? Please don’t make me go back to discussing what autism is and how it is a spectrum and why various developmental, pediatric and neurological doctors documented this diagnosis and provided pages of recommendations. I have fully moved past the point of denial and then considering "something," and am well into the acceptance phase, if not the embracing phase. I just want to see the ball coming, and hit the ball out of the park, knowing that there will be plenty of curve balls, fouls and strikes.
In Steps to Success: Communicating with Your Child’s School by the CADRE (Consortium for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education), they provide concrete ways for parents to begin “developing and maintaining a strong partnership with your child’s school.” This is what they suggest:
Step 1. Be mindful of your emotional pressure gauge as you work with your child’s school.
This is a good step to keep in mind, as I am a little weary from previous school experiences (both PPT and school-related). In order for me to deal with my own frustrations, and get everyone on the same page, may be for me to begin with a positive student profile.
Step 2. Prioritize and Plan.
CADRE suggests ranking your child’s issues in order to have a clear view of what a particular meeting should be focused on. A bulleted list of every issue may not be the best approach. What do the staff think the most important issue is? Is that the same as your top concern?
Step 3. Actively listen to understand the other person’s perspective.
This means to fully understand what the professional is saying, who often uses acronyms, educational jargon and abbreviations in daily speech. The professional uses these terms so often, he or she may lose sight of the fact that it seems like a foreign language to parents who do not have a special education degree. CADRE cautions against “Resist any temptation to answer your own questions or put words into someone else’s mouth.” Let them speak, ask questions, and wait for answers.
Step 4. Clarify your statements if you see a puzzled expression on someone’s face and ask for clarification in return.
I’ve seen this look at PPTs, have you? I tend to dig myself deeper when this happens, and find that the discussion has gone somewhere that I have not intended! CADRE offers ways to gain clarification without furthering misconceptions, enabling you to “correct misinformation.”
Step 5. Have options in mind and offer them for discussion, as needed.
With so many available educational resources, it is good approach to come to the table with some options to consider, and the take-away kernel from CADRE is these are starting places for discussions as potential solutions. I have often heard from those outside of PPTs that they want to be part of the solution, not be told how to do their job. From the parent perspective, a possible solution seems like the best way to reach their child and parents can be taken aback when a PPT doesn’t respond similarly. So parents have to be careful that suggestions don’t come off like criticism or demands.
Step 6. You’re only human.
This section addresses the “uh oh, I said that?” and how to remain civil, complete with sorry, please and thank yous.
CADRE also notes, “You may agree on the issue that must be addressed, but not be in full agreement on how to address it. This is when it can be especially helpful to restate and discuss options in a problem solving way.” The goal, it seems, is to play on the same team, with the focus on what is the best approach for your child.
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