Communication vs. Conflicts: Helping Parents and Educators
By Marilyn Lash, MSW
communication between educators and parents becomes an adversarial relationship
rather than a partnership. Parents often complain that they are viewed as ...overprotective,
demanding, unreasonable and worst of all, unrealistic about their childs
future... when advocating for special educational services. Adding to
their frustration is the frequent difficulty of even reaching educators who
are in class much of the day and not readily available by phone or e-mail.
On the other
hand, teachers, especially those in special education, have voiced their frustrations
with the demands of extensive paperwork, expectations of parents that exceed
available resources, and the pressures of too many students and inadequate staffing.
The Council for Exceptional Children reports that many teachers feel overburdened,
devalued, and undercompensated. Long meetings, extensive time required for documentation
and a complex bureaucratic process are among the major reasons that special
educators leave the field.
It is easy to see how the stage is set for conflict. The above concerns have
been expressed by parents and educators of children with various disabilities.
They are not unique to students with brain injuries. But brain injury brings
a constellation of special factors that makes communication between educators
and parents especially challenging, and often difficult.
family whose child is diagnosed with a disability or chronic condition shortly
after birth or during early childhood, most parents of students with brain injuries
enter the special ed system midstream when ongoing normal
development is interrupted. Already emotionally traumatized by their childs
brain injury and exhausted by the hospital vigil, families entering negotiations
with the school system are frequently ill prepared. They can be readily overwhelmed
by the new terminology and unfamiliar process of determining eligibility, negotiating
IEPs and communicating with a multi-disciplinary educational team. For those
families of recently injured teenagers, the pressure of passing time as graduation
nears heightens concerns about the students readiness and the schools
injury of a child can temporarily destabilize even the most intact family and
permanently change or even destroy others. Interactions with school staff can
be supportive or be another source of stress. It is helpful for educators to
know about a familys...
- Previous experience
- Family dynamics and major
- Coping style
- Resources (information,
education, money, time, supports)
- Knowledge of the special
- Knowledge of brain injury
and its impact on education
- Pending medical issues
and talking with parents, formally in a meeting or informally by phone, is the
beginning of understanding what this child has gone through, helping families
cope, and preparing them for the special education process. While these families
may have become quite knowledgeable about brain injury during their childs
hospital or rehabilitation stay, special education is literally like entering
a foreign land with its own language, procedures, and personnel.
Parents experiment with communication methods and advocacy techniques as they
try to mobilize resources within the school system and by insurers. Initially,
many parents assume that the school will know what is needed and move quickly
to put together a plan and program. However, educators inexperienced in brain
injury may be unsure where and how to begin. The expertise of medical and rehabilitation
staff becomes less available to educators and families just as the student returns
to school. Parents reactions to obstacles in the process vary; some withdraw,
others get angry and some even threaten lawsuits. When gentle advocacy is ignored
or doesnt produce results fast enough, many parents feel they have no
alternative but to become more assertive.
conditions that affect learning, yearly reevaluation planning meetings and periodic
testing are not sufficient nor effective for students with brain injuries. These
students need continuous evaluation and educational program modification in
the first 1 to 2 years post injury.
educators to help parents with the IEP...
- Develop a strategy for
helping parents learn about the IEP process.
- Encourage parents to
share what they have learned about behavior management and compensatory strategies
with teachers and administration.
- Include disciplinary
accommodations that make sense to the student with a brain injury.
- Think beyond customary
IEP accommodations; be creative to find solutions that really fit the students
- Carefully consider when
its appropriate for the student to participate in the IEP meeting.
- Plan for all transitions
ahead of time, even little ones.
- Make sure that parents
know that you have heard their questions and requests.
- Work out a plan for regular
communication with parents.
When discussions get heated, emotions tend to run high. Fatigue, frustration,
stress, impatience and most of all, concern about their childs education
and future, contribute to parents anger. Educators and team members are
often the target of this anger. Sometimes it is with good reason, but oftentimes
staff are captives of a bureaucratic system that is designed to be comprehensive,
but is not always readily responsive or efficient. In comparison to the initial
rapid response of health care providers after a childs injury, the school
system seems slow and often cumbersome to parents.
arise, it is important for educators not to be drawn into the conflict but to
emotionally step back, look at what is going on, diffuse the anger and work
from there. Otherwise, the conflict is likely to continue to escalate and it
is the student who loses.
educators on communicating when a parent is angry...
- Stop and consciously
relax your body (a deep breath usually helps).
- Give them your FULL attention.
what they are saying.
- Validate their feelings
are no right or wrong feelings.
- Avoid the temptation
to defend yourself, others or the school.
- Avoid blaming.
- When they finish, tell
them what you believe you heard the problem to be.
- When you have agreement
on the nature of the problem, begin to talk about a solution.
- Avoid labeling the parent.
- Decompress and vent,
but not with other school personnel; avoid biasing how others perceive the
family and student.
parents about special education
While teachers and others members of the educational team change frequently
as the student progresses and matures, parents remain the constant link for
information and communication throughout their childs education. Educators
can help parents become more skilled and informed by providing them with information
that will help them become effective advocates and negotiators. This is a challenge
faced by all parents of students with special needs. Fortunately, the Web is
a rich place to gather this information, learn from other parents, and find
resources. The following sites are recommended.
for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE)
This site is especially helpful for parents to understand when and how to request
mediation when agreement can not be reached with the educational team. A listing
of professionals by state helps families located resources.
and Advocates Partnership for Education
Lots of information about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is
provided with material written just for families. Has extensive information
to help families understand how the special education process works and how
to be effective advocates.
Village: A Global Community of Disability-Related Resources
This site is a general resource for families of persons with disabilities and
includes informational resources on specific diagnoses, communication connections,
adaptive products and technology, adaptive recreational activities, education,
worship, health issues, disability-related media and literature, and lots more.
Information Center on Children and Youth with Disabilities
This national information
and referral center provides information on disabilities and disability-related
issues for families, educators, and other professionals with a special focus
on children and youth (birth to age 22). Includes an excellent Fact Sheet on
Traumatic Brain Injury. Includes lots of publications written for families in
understandable terms about important laws and regulation on special education.
Parents and Special Education
Designed to help parents find resources and information, this site has everything
form sections on special education to continuing education, family support,
weekly tips, games, book resources, and news and views for parents and professionals.
Assistance Alliance for Parent Centers
Has information on Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) and Community
Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs) in each state provide training and information
to parents of infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities and to
professionals who work with children.
Rock, Marcia. Parents as Equal Partners: Balancing the scales in IEP development.
Teaching Exceptional Children (32)6, July/Aug 2000.
Talking with Parents When a Student has Brain Injury. Wake Forest, NC: Lash
and Associates Publishing/Training, Inc., 1999.
You can request
a free copy of Talking with Parents When a Student has a Brain Injury
by visiting the web at www.lapublishing.com
or by calling Lash and Associates Publishing/Training at 919-562-0015 for
a free catalog.