Schools Responsive to Special Needs

School personnel are on the other side of the negotiations for services. The conversation doesn’t have to be adversarial. When school personnel operate from a position of good faith and transparency, parents are more able to be on the same team.

Schools that are truly responsive share these qualities:

  • They understand that difficult parents are parents who are often stressed by the difficulty of meeting the needs of their child. While negotiating relationships with multiple families and providing adequate services is stressful for the school staff, they get to leave the situation at 3:00 each day. Parents of ill or disabled children don’t get time off from worry. A little empathy for that fact goes a long way.
  • They understand that educational planning meetings are often painful for parents. However well-intended, a meeting where as many as ten professionals weigh in on what is wrong with a child can be terribly distressing. Many parents get through the day with a kind of “functional denial.” They know full well all the things that are wrong. On a day to day basis, they focus on what is going, if not well, at least okay. All those reports stacked up in one place is a painful reminder of how big the problems may really be.
  • They do not try to make a family feel guilty for asking for what their child needs. They don’t compare a family unfavorably with another family or suggest that the parents are being “selfish” for looking for services for their child.
  • They return phone calls and answer questions promptly. They don’t stress an already over-stressed parent by failing to respond – even if it means just keeping them in the loop about issues that are hard to resolve.
  • They operate on a transparent and level playing field. Information about the standards used to make decisions and the resources that are available are open knowledge. It’s clear that no one is playing favorites or responding differently to families depending on any other factor than the disability itself.
  • They understand that legal timelines are there for good reason. When respected, timelines provide a structure that keeps frustration levels down for all parties. They make sure a child gets needed services in a timely way. A plan that is due from the school in 30 days is ready for parent signature in 30 days. Delays in paperwork shouldn’t make 30 days turn into 90 before a child gets a needed service.
  • Most important, they don’t see families who are good advocates for their children as “difficult.” They see them as engaged partners in a challenging process that is difficult for everyone and are therefore able to maintain a respectful tone in discussions.