You've scheduled a get-together with teachers, the principal, and the special-education staff to discuss your child with ADHD or learning disabilities. How do you keep discussions friendly and upbeat — and prevent emotion from getting in the way?
1. Dress professionally
No blue jeans, T-shirts, or anything sloppy. Men should wear a dress shirt and slacks (a jacket and tie would be even better); women should wear neat-looking pants or a skirt and blouse.
“Dressing appropriately puts you on a level with the people you’re meeting,” says Pat Ellis, of Mechanicsburg, Virginia, the mother of an ADD adult and a former support-group facilitator.
2. Prepare an agenda
“You can’t be a good listener if you’re always thinking about the next point that you want to make,” says Cindy Post Senning, Ed.D., a former elementary school principal and co-author of Emily Post’s The Gift of Good Manners (HarperCollins). “Having a list and knowing you’ll get to everything eventually frees you to listen more closely.”
3. Bring your binder
This should contain your child’s report cards and correspondence to and from teachers, and notes about conversations you’ve had with school officials.
“Slip a picture of your child inside the plastic cover on the front,” suggests Robert Tudisco, a lawyer who advocates for ADHD children. “This puts a human face on the problems.”
4.Don’t go alone
Bring along your spouse, another family member, or a friend — someone to take notes and act as a second set of ears and eyes (and to rein you in if you become emotional). If you’d like to tape the meeting (perhaps to share with your spouse or your child’s doctor), ask the others present whether they’d mind.
If you expect the meeting to be contentious, you may wish to hire a child advocate or a lawyer to accompany you and speak for you.
To find an advocate or lawyer near you, contact your local chapter of CHADD or the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates. As a courtesy, let the school staff know in advance that someone will accompany you to the meeting.
5. Show that you know your rights
But be subtle. When she was working to line up accommodations for her daughter, Ellis always brought along the ADHD booklet published by her state. “I just laid it on the table,” she says. “That way, everyone knew I was familiar with my rights. I didn’t need to say anything.”
6. Pack a snack
“I always brought donuts to special-ed meetings,” says Ellis. “Donuts added to the camaraderie.”
7. Take breaks
If you become angry or frustrated during the meeting, excuse yourself to go for a walk and collect your thoughts. “Or simply stop the conversation before emotion gets out of control, and politely share your feelings,” says Senning. “Say, ‘Oh boy, we’re heading into some emotional territory. Can we take a step back?’”
8. Be persistent
Don’t let the meeting end before every problem has been addressed. Explains Senning, “Say something like, ‘We haven’t resolved this. An expert has advised me that my child really needs this accommodation, and what I’m hearing is that you can’t provide it.’ The teacher may say, ‘I have 30 students in the class, and I can’t do that.’ You can reply, ‘I understand that it’s difficult, but we need to find a solution. Is there anyone else who could help us?’” If the person who could resolve the problem — a psychologist, guidance counselor, or a child advocate — is not present, suggest another meeting.
And remember that you don’t need to sign anything right away. If a proposed special-ed plan is incomplete, or fails to reflect what you and school officials discussed, take it home and think about it before deciding whether to sign it.