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Advocacy: How to Get Services by Asking Questions
By Laurie from New York

woman listening

I was surprised to find that the "powers that be" would
not provide the services and supports that
I requested
for my daughter.


When I began advocating for my daughter, I felt insecure when I requested services or supports for her. Because I felt insecure, I supported my requests with lots of documentation -- articles, reports and recommendations from experts, test results, and information about specialized equipment.

I was calm, polite, and in control. I was surprised when the "powers that be" would not provide the services and supports I requested for my daugher.

How Do They Perceive Me?

Why was I having this problem? What could I do?

It seemed that when I made a request, the educational experts viewed me as a “Know it All Parent” who thought she knew more about my child's needs than they did. I realized that they felt threatened.

Now when I go to an IEP meeting, I have a mental list of the accommodations my child needs. I NEVER ask directly for what my child needs. Instead, I ask questions so the educators come up with the desired solution, NOT me.

Strategies: Asking Questions to Identify Solutions

This is how it works. My child Susie has a hearing loss. I wanted Susie to sit near the teacher OR to have a speakerphone in the classroom. I did not ask the team to allow Susie to sit near the teacher or have a speakerphone.

Instead, I said, "Gee, Susie loves her teacher, Mrs. Smith. It’s so sad that Susie can't hear much of what Mrs. Smith says. You know Susie has a hearing loss? (submit medical report) Susie really wants to do well on the new state tests. I wonder what we can do . . .

At this point, someone is likely to say, "Let's have her sit by the teacher" or "Let's get a speakerphone for her."

I say, "That's a wonderful idea. I'm so glad you thought of it."

Strategies: Saying "Thank You"

I thank the team members for letting Susie sit near Mrs. Smith, the teacher she likes so much. I know this sounds crazy but it works most of the time. Educators/experts are happy when THEY come up with the way to meet the child’s needs! Sometimes, they have ideas that I had not considered either!

I decided it doesn’t matter who comes up with the solution as long as my child's needs are met!

Last year, we moved to a new school district in a different part of the state. We had a "clean slate." I had a chance to try out my techniques with a new group of educators. I gave them my child’s IEP and told them about the equipment our former school used (the former school was willing to sell the stuff to them).

I could tell them everything they needed to know about my daughter but until they met her and got to know her for themselves, I was just another "yappy" parent.

I learned another lesson: our children often win over people on their own!

IEP Day: My Child Has Many Advocates

When IEP day came, more people were advocating for my daughter than I could imagine. I sat there listening to the comments, feeling stunned, not saying much.

smiling girl  

"We need to base her services on what she needs, NOT the availability of a TVI (Teacher of the Visually Impaired)"

"We need to have some training in this area"

"We need to order these Braille books immediately."

The new school had already purchased the equipment from the old school – it was sitting on the table!

Whenever I meet or talk with school staff, I explain that my daughter needs access to the general curriculum. She needs instructional materials in Braille, services from a teacher of the visually impaired, and orientation and mobility instruction.

I also explain that she wants to be like other kids. I don't expect the school to do cartwheels for her!

When they realize that I don't want to break their budget or create unnecessary extra work, they’ve been great. I can honestly say that I don't feel that I'm at odds with them! (But I still don’t let down my guard.)

I look at it this way: If an educator came into my home and told me what color to paint my walls and how to decorate the rooms, I would not be very happy!

I can’t say that everything has been smooth sailing – we have had some bumps and are still getting things in place for next year. But I think this happens whenever people who have different interests and perceptions work together for a common goal.

As parents, we need to figure out how to get the educators to come up with the services our children need. My strategies are one approach. I know other parents have good ideas ideas too!

It's sort of silly when you think about it -- like a game!

From Wrightslaw

You're right, it is like a game. And you hit a home run!

If a parent asks for a specific service or support, this generally ensures that the school will not provide that service or support.

After you struck out, you spent time thinking about the meetings. You thought about how you were perceived by school people (a Know-it-All or "yappy parent). You understood that if you took over the role of "Expert," you would leave no role for the educators.

If school people feel threatened or disrespected by you, they will look for a way to shoot you down. This is human nature - it is not specific to special education.

Many parents do not understand these issues. Since many parents feel insecure in their dealings with school people, it's hard for them to put their egos on the back burner.

In our book, Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, we describe these issues and provide strategies to deal with them.

Do You Have a Success Story?

woman doing handspringDo you have a success story or advocacy strategy that you want to share?

We are collecting stories about successful advocacy from parents and other advocates.

We will post some of these stories on Wrightslaw and some on a new parent advocacy site.

If you are interested in submitting a success story or strategy, please send an email to: success | at | wrightslaw.com

In the Subject line of your email, type SUCCESS STORY in all caps.

You will receive an autoresponder email that contains details about our submissions policy.

Please do not send an article until after you read and review the Submissions Policy.

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Last updated: 04/27/14

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Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, by Pam and Pete Wright
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Wrightslaw: All About IEPs
About the Book

Wrightslaw: All About Tests and Assessments
About the Book

Surviving Due Process: Stephen Jeffers v. School Board
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