In the fourth of this 7-part series, we discuss with difficult-conversation expert Lisa Dinhofer, M.A., CT the topic of parent’s anger with the school system and give valuable tips about how we can approach the school to get the best results in an IEP meeting, as well as how to be the best advocate possible for your child.
Lisa recommends that to communicate most effectively with the school, that we start with ourselves. While we may have a good reason to be angry, our anger can easily derail these important conversations. So, she suggests that we do whatever we need to do to diffuse the anger before the conversation so that we are not leading with anger in the meeting. Ask yourself, “…do I want to be right or do I want to be effective?”
Your anger has no place in this meeting. Leave it at the door. Have some compassion for these people, they are educators, they do not walk in your shoes, and they don’t really know what it’s like. So, if they are not providing what your child needs, change your thought from “they don’t care,” or “they don’t want to help me,” or “they are not paying attention” to “they don’t understand.” You are now the educator for that meeting, teaching them to understand how to better support you. You are the expert on your child. Once we get our perspective in line, we will have more success executing our plan.
When you go to these meetings thinking “I am the teacher, I am the educator, and I am going to do a good job educating these people who don’t understand yet, so that they can do a better job with not only my child, but also other children, that is will elicit a very different response than if you come in as an angry, frustrated parent. When you model that behavior with them, they are more likely to model that attitude back to you.
Next, be very clear about what you want to accomplish. Just wanting the school to “get it” is not going to effective. It’s important that you communicate clearly. Lisa recommends we spend time preparing in writing, and working with the phrasing we are using, to define specifically what we want and need. With this done, we can be explicit in the meeting, which will render more success.
Have a plan and a strategy. Prioritize the order of items you need to discuss in case you can’t get to everything. What is THE most important thing they need to understand that you and your child need? If they feel that they are incapable, or don’t have the resources, or the ability, it may be that they just don’t understand, help them see how they can provide it. Be very clear on the plan, the priority of the plan, and stay open to the fact that this may take two or three sessions to complete. Focus on being effective, not expeditious. Also, be prepared to bring examples and stories because that’s how people learn best. You might say “…when my child does this, I find that when I respond this way, and he responds by doing this. Do you think that you might do that in the classroom?”
The more you learn about the autism, the more you are able to educate all the people who interact with your child. Having the understanding of autism that is taught in the NAA’s Essential Parenting Guidance training, and presenting it in the approach that Lisa recommends is a very powerful formula for successful advocacy.
Finally, Lisa reminds us to have patience and realistic expectations. The school may not become proficient in working with your child in one meeting. If you see it’s going to take more meetings, recognize that this is a big, complicated subject and the school may need more time to learn.
About Lisa Dinhofer: Ms. Dinhofer, MA, CT, is a certified Thanatologist and communication expert with 18+ years teaching, consulting and coaching experience for effective messaging and situational management following: traumatic death and loss, abrupt change and chronic conflict within high intensity front-line occupations and business environments. She is a seasoned educator within: healthcare, social work, mental health, law enforcement, attorneys, child welfare agencies, emergency response preparedness, forensic and mortuary, clergy, Call Centers, non-profit and corporate environments.
Ms. Dinhofer provides emergency workplace debriefings and training on work-related stress, burnout, compassion fatigue and trauma and the unique issues associated with excessive exposure to graphic material within child-crime and at-risk environments. Ms. Dinhofer also facilitates education on loss issues specific to pediatric and adult foster care. Ms. Dinhofer has been a featured presenter at over 100 scientific and professional conferences in the U.S., UK, Middle East, and the Czech Republic and has facilitated over 250 workshops. She is the owner of Koden Consulting Services and Ingeni, LLC Consulting and has been an adjunct instructor in the Graduate Thanatology program at Hood College in Frederick, MD