A parent recently wrote to me about her frustrations with how the therapists working with her child write their special education assessment reports. She wrote that the reports tend to be “written in a way that makes the child’s deficits seem worse than they are and rarely mentions the child’s abilities”. This is something I have heard from many other parents, regarding reports and also about the tone of IEP meetings. Therapist reports, whether they are written to report on a child’s progress during therapy over the course of the IEP or to report on assessment results from assessments given to your child; should always include the child’s strengths as well as their deficits.
It is easy for IEP meetings and the supplementary reports associated with the IEP meetings to be focused on deficits rather than on strengths because the nature of special education is to remediate deficits. A child only becomes a special education student if he or she qualifies for a disability. The language in itself is negative. Keep this in mind when you read reports about your child. The therapist may not even be aware that they are portraying your child negatively, but may just be thinking about what they have to point out for him/her to continue to qualify for services in their area of speciality.
With that being said, it is a basic need for all parents (whether they have a child with special needs or not) to hear about the progress their child has made, the strengths their child possesses and their child’s general abilities as a student and person. When I facilitated special education meetings, I always started with asking people to talk about the strengths, celebrations and/or growth that they had seen in the child. I believe this sets a positive tone for the meeting and the difficult content that will often be discussed during the meeting. No parent wants to be constantly reminded of all of their child’s deficits; they live with them day in and day out and most likely are keenly aware of them.
In my opinion, setting a positive and proactive tone is the job of the case manager and the special education team. However, if this is not occurring during meetings or in reports I would suggest to parents to discuss this with the therapist, case manager or an administrator (if the case manager is part of the problem). Explain your perception of the meetings and/or reports by pointing out specific examples (or non-examples) of how deficit focused rather than ability focused reports and/or meetings appear to you.
Parents often say that they feel like they cannot or should not show their vulnerabilities or state their genuine needs within the special education process because then professionals may view them as weak or needy. Remember that you are human and that you are a parent. It is good practice to ask for what you need. It is also good to dialogue about your perception because all too often educators get so entrenched in their job that they lose focus and forget that they are there to help children and families. In most situations, a gentle reminder will help the team be more positive and proactive. If talking to individuals makes things worse, go up the chain of command and talk to the building administrator, the special education administrator and/or the superintendent.
Remember that advocating for your needs as a parent is directly related to advocating for your child. Please share your experiences with talking to school personnel about the tone of their reports and/or meetings? What has worked for you? What has backfired for you?