Communicating Effectively with Your Child’s Team: Strategies for Success

Tips and tricks for preparing for your child's IEP meeting.

Women sitting at a table having a meeting

The importance of access to individualized services and supports cannot be overstated for children with combined vision and hearing loss. Yet, school districts struggle with hiring qualified personnel with experience and knowledge working with this low incidence population. Families often have to advocate for services and remind school districts of their child’s learning needs, not an easy task when trained personnel are scarce or non-existent in more rural settings. Too often, lack of trained personnel creates an adversarial relationship between parents who want their child to receive the support they need to learn and districts that either can’t find trained personnel or don’t understand the child’s critical need for specialized services. 

While various family support agencies provide training to parents regarding the IEP and legal rights, too often parents are forewarned that they will have to “fight” for services. While various family support agencies provide training to parents regarding the IEP and legal rights, too often parents are forewarned that they will have to “fight” for services. This perspective isn’t necessarily true and can set up negative interactions from the beginning. As a result, parents dread conversations with team members or district personnel, anticipate that the encounter will be combative, and feel unconfident to handle these situations. Some potential team scenarios that parents might encounter include addressing the need for specific services and trained personnel; not receiving educational updates and program information in a timely manner; dealing with providers who are new to the team and have limited knowledge; trying to communicate with team members who don’t listen or value parent input; juggling emotional family issues (divorce, separation, homelessness, family illness); or broaching the subject of out-of- district placement.

Working collaboratively and being positive will go a long way in your relationship with providers and your school district. Notably, our current world and the educational climate is strained due to the pandemic, with greater staff shortages, professionals working under difficult conditions, and lack of planning/meeting time. While these issues don’t negate your child’s critical learning needs, remember that “Your Words Matter” and may impact relationships with your district for a long time to come. Be clear about your priorities and “non-negotiables” and be prepared to communicate your wishes in as respectful and neutral a manner as possible.

Most of us tend to put off difficult conversations because of the intensity or fear of feeling too emotional. Initiating a difficult conversation may feel daunting and you might hope that the conflict will resolve itself. This rarely happens! Putting off the conversation won’t improve misunderstandings, and you’ll feel less connected to your child’s team and his/her learning, potentially leading to negative feelings and a lack of trust. You might avoid a difficult topic for fear that it will make things worse or that your request won’t be valued or understood. Feeling vulnerable, worrying about being judged, or not wanting to “rock the boat”, can make it more difficult to tackle “difficult conversations”. Here’s the important thing to remember, “You’re Talking About Your Child!”.  It’s ok to feel uncertain, flustered or overwhelmed when trying to communicate your thoughts about what your child needs to learn.

Here is a simple checklist to review prior to a team meeting that will help you feel more prepared and confident as you navigate various interactions with your child’s team. 

Prior to the Meeting

Organize Your Thoughts

During the Meeting – Keep Your Emotions in Check

During the Meeting – Finding Your Voice

During the Meeting – When There is Disagreement or Others Don’t Listen

Assume Good Intentions 

Additional Resources:

The Short and Sweet IEP Overview

The Role of the Family in IEP Development

Mindfulness Communication Skills for Difficult Conversations

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Promoting early literacy for young child with deafblindness

Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

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