Some of these tips seem basic, but do you and your team really complete them intentionally?
1. Sensitive parents often become sensitive because they feel their ideas do not matter. If you are a new provider, start the year by contacting them – the first week of school if possible. You are soliciting their input to be more effective, not because you want to “keep them happy.” How did the summer go? How is the new school year is shaping up? What changes have occurred in your family? Any changes in medical status or medication of our student? What are your child’s current motivators and interests? Warning: double check with other providers prior to the call; there are some parents for whom this approach would not be recommended.
2. Remember that the beginning of the school year is difficult for any child, and that difficulty is magnified when a student is not “neurotypical.” Ask the parents what they anticipate will be their child’s biggest stumbling block this year. Visualize with them how support in this area can be integrated into the current IEP goals. Briefly review your IEP goals. Reassure them that you are partners in promoting positive change.
3. Look for the “big picture.” Remember that most parents are trying their best in their current circumstances. Acknowledge their efforts, and consider reminding them of how their hard work has paid off in the past. For example, “your work at home has made a big difference in… I really see your perspective in… I understand your passion about…” Look for opportunities to encourage them, just as you encourage their child.
4. Remind the parents and your team that what a student does at home is VERY different than what they can do at school. It may be helpful to ask the parent to videotape the child doing some of his daily activities and participating in family life. Parents may, for example, feel threatened because we can get the student to sit quietly and concentrate when they can’t or superior because they can handle the child’s behavior in a 1:1 environment and we can’t.
Note: videotaping is a great idea for some parents and not for others, so be selective. In one Asperger’s case, the parent cited videotaping as the best thing she ever did to help her child’s team understand the full picture and develop appropriate goals. She regretted that no one had suggested it until he was in 6th grade.
5. Remember that at some level the parent of a child receiving any type of special services is grieving for the “normal child” they had hoped for. Do not be surprised to run into the typical emotions of grieving -shock, denial, depression, anger, oversensitivity, helplessness and withdrawal. Remember that the event of an IEP is an exhausting ordeal for most parents and requires them to focus on deficits in their child that they are likely still struggling to accept.
6. Remember that the percentage of divorce in parents of children with special education needs is high. Take care to include both parents in your discussion, and encourage them to work together as a family for this child. Be careful to ask the opinion of the silent member of the family as well as the leader. Above all, remember that it is not us against them, but rather a group of people with different strengths and weaknesses who want to help the student succeed. We are not teaching the parents, we are working together for their child.
Don’t be afraid to ask an effective parent how they do it. You may have years of experience, but if you haven’t lived with a child with special needs, you can pick up some terrific information from parents! Consider having a panel discussion for one of your teacher’s meetings!