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Preventing Burnout in the People Who Help Us
Meredith G. Warshaw, M.S.S., M.A.
Special Needs Educational Advisor

1. Treat the parents with kindness and courtesy.

People who are treated with courtesy and kindness are less likely to become angry. If they do become angry, they are more likely to focus their anger away from you if you treat them nicely. Parents are much more likely to file due process hearings or complaints if they are treated badly.

2. Make parents feel like they are an important part of the IEP Team. I worry that the people in the system who are helping me and our kids will get burned out and quit - which is the last thing we want to see!

kids form the word thank youSo, having discovered how much it cheers and reinvigorates me when I get thank you notes from clients or others I've helped, I've started a campaign to spread the cheer. It takes just a few minutes of time, and can be done by email or snail mail.

Thank You Note to a Person Who Helped You

If you only have 2 minutes, just write a quick "thanks". However, if you can spare a little more time, being specific lets people know that others are noticing the extra touches that take time and caring, and provides positive reinforcement.

For example, when I wrote a thank you note to our pediatrician (who got us through a very difficult year), I stated specifically that I appreciate that he never makes us feel rushed, that he has a good rapport with my son, that he takes my concerns seriously, and that he makes me feel comfortable asking questions about his clinical reasoning. Since these are things that are often problems when dealing with medical professionals, it is important to give positive feedback to those who get it right.

Similar notes to OTs, psychologists, teachers, and advocates are always appreciated.

Thank You Note to a Supervisor

It makes a big difference to people if their supervisors hear that they are doing a good job.

If the person you want to thank works for an agency or a school, consider writing a letter to her supervisor, with a copy to the person you are praising. Being specific tells supervisors that this is not just a generic "thanks", lets them know about their employees' strengths, and lets them know what matters to the people they serve.

However, if someone has done helpful things that might get him in trouble with "the powers that be" or if you are in a contentious relationship with the school or agency, thank the person who has helped you privately (verbal thanks or baked goods are always welcome), but do not send a letter to the supervisor, since you could inadvertently get the person into trouble or jeopardize any future complaints you make.

Praise Helps Everyone

Since I started thanking people, I have been reminded repeatedly how often workers and managers hear complaints but not praise. For example, when I got special help from the emergency vet and asked to speak to a manager to praise the care we had gotten, her first reaction was "what's the problem you need help with?", and then she was effusive in her thanks and appreciation that I'd taken the time to give a compliment.

As a side benefit, I feel much happier after I've thanked people. It helps me realize that there are good people in the system, that I'm getting help as well as hindrance, and that I have something to be thankful for.

And, in the vein of helping our advocacy, I have no doubt that the people I thank are more likely to help me and others next time the opportunity arises, now that they know that their help is appreciated.

About the Author

Meredith Warshaw, M.S.S., M.A., works as a Special Needs Educational Advisor, helping with families of gifted/special needs children better understand their children's needs. She also writes articles and speaks at conferences on the special needs of this group of children. She is a Contributing Editor and member of the Editorial Board for the new publication 2e: Twice-Exceptional Newsletter

Meredith is creator of the Uniquely Gifted website of resources, which includes links to information on specific special needs, giftedness, special education advocacy, bullying, and more.

She is also cofounder of the GT-Special email list for families with gifted/special needs children. After school and her twice-exceptional son proved a bad fit, they embarked on the adventure of homeschooling, which lead to the creation of the GT-Spec-Home email list for families homeschooling twice-exception children.

Meredith is also listowner for the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) email list.

Contact Information:
Meredith Warshaw, M.S.S., M.A.

Links: Advocacy & Letter-Writing

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