Choose Words Carefully; Use them Wisely

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Indeed, it turns out Mom is right; we need to choose our words carefully and use them wisely. Why? Simply put, words can build new relationships or damage them.  Words are powerful – how we say them and more important, the interpretation of those words, can make us laugh, feel loved, anger or sadness.

This principle is so important when it comes to advocating for our children, and building relationships with teachers, therapists, support staff, and yes, even school administration.

At home therapies are a challenge

The premise of choosing words wisely has never been more important – at a time when kids who rely on special education services have seemingly been left behind to regress due to COVID-19. Overwhelmed parents are working tirelessly to fill the shoes of an entire team of professionals. – to say emotions are running high is an understatement.

Where I live, school has started, but is frustratingly 100% remote, even though our governor proclaimed that special education classes could resume in person mid-summer. My kiddo, with multiple disabilities and learning challenges, has been home since March. The lack of in-person therapies and services has been tough. We have done all we can to slow regression, but working at home with mom and dad is just no comparison to attending school everyday with professionals.

Advocacy not adversarial

With this in mind, we continue to advocate for what she needs to be successful. To me, this means successful in school, period, whether at home or in person. So often, I hear from parents where the request for additional services or equipment becomes adversarial. (And trust me, I’ve been there).

One of the things I’ve learned over the years, is the power of one small phrase. It’s served me well in securing services for my kiddo, as well as in my career. What’s the phrase, you ask? It’s quite simple. It’s “Yes, and…”

Sure, it doesn’t seem like much, but this phrase puts the power back in your hands. How? Yes implies that you’re in agreement with the person’s goal. And allows you to tack on what is required to get to the goal everyone seems to agree upon.

Words are powerful

For example, let’s take a look at a hypothetical conversation with my boss.
Boss: We are implementing a new thing-a-ma-jig company wide, and I’ll need you to run 3 exception reports each day.

Me: But, I don’t have the software on my computer, and Suzie leaves at 2 and I have to cover the desk.

Now, let’s try it again using the magic phrase:
Me: Yes, I can do that! And, all I’ll need is to upgrade the software on my computer to version 3.0, and get someone to cover Suzie’s desk at 2 when she goes to lunch. Who in IT should I reach out to?

Such a simple but powerful change. By saying YES, I agree with my boss’ goal – to get 3 exception reports run daily. Using AND allows me to be perfectly clear about what I need to make it happen.

apply this to IEP meetings

Think about how to apply this strategy in IEP meetings, or when a teacher requests something from our children. Positioning in this way puts the onus on the other person to put the tools in place to help your child be successful. Here’s an example:

Speech Goal: Given a reading passage, STUDENT will independently articulate the sound(s) of / / in all positions of words at reading level  with 80% accuracy in 4 out of 5 opportunities. 

Me: Yes! And to support her success, 1:1 explicit reading instruction will be important, so that she can see the words, decode them, and hear them correctly to help with making the correct sounds; she’s currently reading below peer level, at a level 3. In order to get her to a level 5, where her peers are, what needs to happen next?

Conversely, a follow up question could be asked. “Given that her reading is 2 levels below that of her peers, what is the plan for explicit instruction, and how will that support your goal?”

Both of those responses put some of the onus on the school to tell you the steps they will take to make that goal happen.

You’ll get more bees with honey

Yep, this strategy is just an extension of the old adage. I’m not saying that rephrasing guarantees you’ll get your request, but let’s be honest, the response you’ll receive will be much more favorable than if you alternately respond, “WTF, she can’t even read at peer level, how is she supposed to articulate properly with 80% accuracy?!?”

[In our household we call this the ‘filter’ – the ability to filter what one is actually thinking in order to express ourselves in such a way the school won’t call security for an escort. But believe me, in my head? I’m cursing like a sailor]

So, in conclusion? Mom was right. Choose your words carefully. Use them wisely. And, don’t forget, you’ll get more bees with honey. As a side note, having an autistic child reminds me why these old adages are confusing. I can already see my kiddo throwing away all of the honey from cupboards as not to attract unwanted bees…

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