This Mama is not the Complaint Department

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Hey mamas, do you ever feel like you’re the complaint department when a professional gives you a report about your child with special needs? Ever leave a meeting feeling defeated, as though all you heard about was the negative, with no light shed on the positive? Or maybe with no clear pathway to how the challenges would be addressed? Today I’m going to let you in on a little secret — how I turn those conversations around into productive fact-finding and action-seeking missions.

Complaint Department Sorry, We're Closed!

IEP meetings can focus on the negative

As I’ve confessed in previous posts, I’m a blog junkie. I just love reading posts from like-minded parents who are living a similar lifestyle. When someone writes about their life, it’s a window into a personal experience – and I feel like I’ve got a front row seat sharing the ups and downs right along with them. Recently, I read a post from a fellow autism mom. She was completely disheartened after coming home from an IEP meeting where professionals gave her a laundry list of tasks her son can’t do. Furthermore, she felt that this laundry list became the focus of the entire meeting.

My heart sank for her, perhaps because I’ve been here before. Overwhelmed by a negative focus, and angry at the lack of acknowledgement for the positive growth, no matter how small. Feeling, on some level, that I’m being judged for the tasks my kiddo can’t do.

Move the Ball with Clarifying Questions

I recall a specific discussion about my daughter’s reading program, or lack thereof, at her IEP meeting. (If you’ve followed this blog, you know that we did eventually get 1:1 reading help) I vividly remember the teacher saying, “Reading takes patience and perseverance,” followed by “neither of which [your daughter] has.” I could feel the blood boiling beneath my cheeks.

First of all, patience and perseverance isn’t the root cause of my child’s inability to read. It’s well documented that kids who don’t organically pick up reading need explicit, systematic instruction in order to be able to read to their full potential, such as the Orton-Gillingham approach. Secondly, after repeated denials of my requests, I knew that no one had tried working with her 1:1.

Although my inclination was to raise my voice and give the group a piece of my mind, I decided to turn the conversation around by asking for clarification. I thanked the teacher for her feedback and said, “Let’s start with patience. I’m sure you’re keeping records and you can send me a copy later, but, what interventions have you tried and what reaction did you view as [my child] not having patience?

After that I moved on to perseverance. “Help me understand what you mean by lack of perseverance – Short attention span? Refusal? Does she tap out after 10 minutes? Or 15?” Followed up with, “Do you think this requires a behavior plan? If not, what are the next steps, and how can I support you at home?

BOOM.

By asking a few clarifying questions, I let the team know that I wasn’t going to allow the challenge to be an excuse. Moreover, that I was expecting the team to not only identify an issue, but to document what they’d done to help my child overcome the challenge.

Yes, challenges need to be addressed

Certainly I understand the obligation of a teacher or IEP team, and that we have to discuss the positives and the negatives, however, this mama is not the complaint department. We are a team – which means that we can’t just list out challenges without discussing the steps toward addressing them.

By asking clarifying questions it forces a deeper discussion that moves past awareness, and on to action — what steps do we need to take to address it? What accommodations can we try to make my child successful? How will improvement be measured? What does good look like – what are we striving for?

If these questions can’t be answered, chances are
(1) Nothing has been tried to address it
(2) There is no clear vision of what needs to happen or how
(3) The issue/behavior isn’t bad/disruptive enough to warrant an intervention

complaints don’t help my child

To me, if a behavior or challenge is significant enough to be the focus of a seemingly never-ending laundry list of negatives, then it’s important enough to have a plan in place to address it. I repeat, (say it with me): This mama is not the complaint department. Without question, I will work with you, but no longer will I quietly swallow a list of identified issues without expecting a list of planned actions to address them.

Without question, I will work with you, but no longer will I quietly swallow a list of identified issues about my child without expecting a list of planned actions to address them. Click To Tweet

i wish I’d started sooner

Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t start using this strategy sooner! It isn’t new to me; I’ve worked in the corporate world for many, many years and had the opportunity to oversee large departments and programs. I can tell you for certain, I never let one of my direct reports come to me with a list of complaints without offering some ideas about the steps for finding a solution. I am happy to share the burden with them, but I won’t take it on alone.

This strategy – of asking clarifying questions- gets to the heart of the matter, and forces the teacher, professional or team to share the workload with you. It requires everyone to work as a team to find solutions.

10 Clarifying questions to drive action

  1. Can you give me an example of _________and what is happening when it occurs?
  2. How often, over the last 2 weeks, did ___________occur?
  3. How does ___________ impact learning?
  4. Who else should be involved to support ___________? (i.e., PT, OT, Speech therapy, adapted PE, etc.)
  5. What interventions are in place today to address __________? How are they working?
  6. Do you think _________requires a behavior plan?
  7. What does improvement look like? An increase in ______? A decrease in ______? How will it be measured?
  8. Who in the district would complete an evaluation for _____________?
  9. What accommodations need to be made so my child can be successful?
  10. What can I do to support your efforts at home?

Clarifying questions can help identify your child’s true challenges along with action steps to address them. Moreover, it aligns a team’s resources around a set of goals and identifies how success will be measured.

Have you used this strategy? How did it work out? What are your favorite clarifying questions? Share in the comments below! Please share this article and help a fellow mom!

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2 comments

  1. BRILLIANT. And sooooo helpful.

    I intend to use these strategies to combat my own overwhelm and general agency and institutional lameness even as my son moves toward college!!!!

    Thanks and love,
    Full Spectrum Mama

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