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Walk in the School’s Shoes: Help them WANT to Help Your Child

by Wrightslaw

As a parent, your ultimate goal is to educate school personnel so they want to help your child.

The most important ability to use in resolving problems with the school is to put yourself in the shoes of the people on the other side and answer these questions:

* How do they see the problem? (their perceptions)
* What do they feel and believe? (their beliefs)
* What do they want? (their interests)
* What are they afraid will happen if they give you what you want? (their fears)

You need to pick your battles. Here’s an example of how. A parent writes…

My son 18 has missed more than the allotted number of school days. He is bipolar and occasionally has a hard time getting to class on time. Tardiness is counted as a whole day absent. The school wants a doctor’s note every time.

The school also insists I provide them with a doctor’s note every year saying that he “STILL” has bipolar disorder. His school counselor said “Just a sentence on a letter head every year.” I say that is ridiculous.

There are several concerns here.

One concern is that schools don’t often know how to help children who really do have bipolar disorder. The parent’s frustration with the school’s request is understandable.

But as a parent, your ultimate goal is to educate school personnel so they WANT to help your child. This won’t happen if you refuse to provide information the school requests and let them know you view their requests as “ridiculous.” I’m not sure this is one that you can win without getting help from others.

If your child is often late to school because he oversleeps or because he is sick with minor things, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the educators and answer some questions:

* How does the school view your child? What are their perceptions?

* Do school personnel view him as a lazy teenager who doesn’t really have anything wrong with him?

* Do they view you as an overprotective mom who makes excuses for her child who won’t roll out of bed in the morning? (Why else would you refuse to provide them with the information they need?).

* School people are not mental health experts. What do they know about bipolar disorder?

* Does he take medication? How does this affect his sleep? Motivation? Ability to learn?
(this information needs to come from a health care provider – psychiatrist, psychologist, etc)

* Does your child have an IEP or 504 Plan? If he has a disability that adversely affects educational performance (and it sounds like he does), he should be eligible for special education services under IDEA. If he has a disability that does NOT have an adverse impact on educational performance, he should have a 504 Plan.

* Does the school have a policy that if a student has a medical or psychiatric condition, the school needs updated information from the treating physician at specific intervals (every year, every semester) that the student continues to have that condition?

* Does the school need information about how his condition affects his ability to learn and perform in school?

If school people view you and/or your child in a negative light, you need to change their perceptions.

This includes getting information from a treating psychiatrist or psychologist to begin educating teachers about your child’s condition and how it affects him and his ability to learn. This is the only way you will accomplish the goal of educating the school staff so they WANT to help your child.

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23 Comments on "Walk in the School’s Shoes: Help them WANT to Help Your Child"


Jdeekdee. Let me offer another angle on this. If I hire a group of people to work for me, I still have to help them become a team. I have to provide them with vision, direction, assistance, and encouragement.

Someone said “the greatest among you is servant of all.” Likewise, as a parent or advocate, the leadership I provide to an IEP team comes through an attitude of service. In humility we have the power to draw people toward rational objectives which they can find the desire to embrace. We help them cultivate and maintain that desire through our hearts of appreciation and commitment toward them.

Advocacy means persuasion, which results from leadership through service. It’s a process of relationship. As trust and appreciation build, progress happens. If we break away from that mutuality, we abandon our power.

Carla C

Wonderful suggestions! What would you suggest if the District feels like all children with a Diasability must be an restricted environment. That they are allowed to mainstream only when they can “shadow their typical peer”? What can one do when you offer information to help them understand the Disabilty and they refuse to hear?

Marie N

My son has Asperger’s and ADHD Inattentive. He just got an IEP, but the school refuses to implement the necessary recommendations from the neuropsy. HELP! I noticed that the teachers w/out Asperger’s experience cannot teach children with this disorder. Why? They need fast-paced instruction in some areas while slower-paced instructions in other areas. They need to relax and talk while learning. It sounds unusual for many of us who need silence and concentration, but, I repeat, these children learn differently. Can parents request a spec. ed. teacher with Asperger’s experience from the school? My son’s disability is with written expressions. He can type out fantastic essays, but not write them down on paper. What do you recommend? We had to hire an attorney to advocate for us.


Thank you for this additional insight! It is so true and helpful when advocating for your student and attempting to help educate staff as to the impact such a condition has on your student’s daily life. Remember, they do not live with your student 24/7 as you do, so it really is worth getting a note from your PCP or Psychiatrist OR BOTH,or obtain whatever verification documentation the school feels it needs in order for them to understand all that may result due to and as a part of your students disability so they CAN excuse such tardiness,etc.


I am a school counselor and have been reading Wright’sLaw for many years. Your article, “Walk in the Schools Shoes” is an accurate guideline for parents to to follow. School personnel want to help children and they are equally frustrated when gatekeeping in any form occurs. There is often a disconnect between what school staff need in order to provide accommodations and what the law may state. In my experience the kind of thinking and coorporation your article describes is ultimately guaranteed to work in favor of the child.