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As we all know, there is far greater unrest within our country among the contingent of special needs children and their parents than could possibly be found in Bosnia and Iraq combined. This is my "Battle PlanŠ." by Shirley Fitzgerald,RN

Psychological Warfare:

1) Prepare yourself with appropriate uniform (business suit with tie for men, courtroom dressy dress for women) Do not attempt to go into battle in your everyday housedress or garden slacks as this may be interpreted by the "enemy" as a sign of weakness on your part. Make sure hair, makeup and jewelry reflect "success" and "power".

2) Take your notebook, pocket tape recorder, calendar and/or laptop computer to record "minutes" of the meeting. An excellent suggestion for the notebook dividers, visible "LEGAL", "IEP", "SCHOOL BOARD," "DOCTOR" and so forth. (Even if you sit bored silly writing your grocery list under "Legal" they will take you seriously)

Documentary Warfare:

1) Confirm all verbal encounters either in person or by phone with a simple note or preferably FAX eg. "Confirming our discussion of this date, we agreed that .... We also agreed that we could objectively measure progress by...and that our next meeting would be at...."

2) Determine your local laws regarding the recording of telephone conversations and those in person. In Oregon you can tape telephone calls with only one party's permission, but cannot legally tape meetings without permission of the other can however, occasionally take the pocket tape recorder out of your pocket and speak into it eg. Memo to the file: IEP Legal.... and record your own voice. Store all tapes in a safe, but easily located place for future transcription and reference.

3) Make sure all correspondence is received by sending certified with return receipt or by FAX for which your machine will document receipt. Even with FAX transmissions, I always call up the school secretary and pretend to be concerned "just to make sure you received all X number of pages clearly". Then I write the name of the person, date and time of verification directly on my file copy of the FAX and staple the transmission log to it before filing. I also use a 3 hole punch and 3 ring binder to keep all these papers together...much simpler for me than a file cabinet.

4) Log all communications by date/time/subject on a calendar to keep with you. That way in meetings, you can say, "we addressed that on date X, agreed on plan Y to be evaluated on date Z AND today is date Z!"

5) Use your MD to get whatever you want for your child. Almost any educational accomodation also has a medical significance if only to relieve the "stress" the child is under. MD's don't like to write letters, so write the letters for the MD and have him/her sign them. Our pediatrician (MD, PhD) takes what I have written, scans it into his computer and reprints it on his letterhead.


1) Volunteer in the classroom...even if only for a one time event such as lining the kids up for vision screening. Make notes of your observations and use them to your advantage. eg. my son was continually coming home with torn clothes, bruises and damaged notebooks, but when I went to school to turn in his homework while he was home sick, I observed that not a single teacher or administrator even stuck his/her head out of an office to monitor the corridors during passing periods !!

2) Listen to what the other kids are saying about your kid. A neighbor child came up to me and volunteered that he was concerned about my daughter's feelings because the teachers and principal were putting their hands up to their mouths, whispering and pointing whenever my daughter passed in the hallway!

3) Observe the classroom set-up. Is your child seated close to the chalkboard at your request, but with his/her back to it ? Mine was!

4) How does the teacher teach ? Does the teacher sit at a desk or walk around the room when talking to the class ? Does the teacher make eye contact or even notice the students who are not following along ? Perhaps this teacher is not aware of the body language (restless, fidgeting) that is communicating boredom...or that the student cannot follow ?

5) What are the distractions like from the hallways ? Are students out of class running up and down the halls in tap shoes while others are trying to listen to the teacher ? (I found this to be true at my son's school)

6) Observe the discipline....

7) Observe it active or sitting in a classroom ?

8) Observe the medication it accurate (correct med/dose) and timely ?

9) Make a note of how many tablets of each med are left at school and on what date (back to that calendar again). I have suspecions about a school secretary with a weight problem and access to the seems more than 30 tablets disappeared from one student's bottle in under a week, but the school claims to not be responsible! The secretary kept claiming the tablets were being dropped on the floor by the student necessitating a new, clean tablet to be given.

10) Are the children given adequate time to eat their meals ? Nutrition can really make a difference with behavior as well as medication absorption.

Face-to-Face Combat:

1) Do your best to take the emotions out of all contacts (this is SO difficult...even for me!) Remember this is strictly a business is the business of educating your child.

2) Ask questions....lots of questions ! eg. How do you feel intervention x will meet our goal of y ? or...I don't understand how you can justify using Ms. Z as a specialist on this team when she already told us she has never dealt with diagnosis Q before...could you please explain? And write down or record the answers.

3) Restate the really stupid stuff they say...Did I hear you correctly when you said....? Could you have possibly meant...?

4) Practice "outs"... eg. I already have something scheduled that day, let me see if I can cancel it and get back to you. Given that time is of the essence, I think we should make part A effective today, but I would like to research part B further, perhaps we could reconvene next week ? I am not comfortable with that there any other way to address it?

5) If you have a pager flip the switch to emit a sound at the time you feel pressured and excuse yourself leaving the team with a date/time to reconvene. Even a wristwatch and calendar will work...oops...I have another appointment in 15 min...I appreciate your help, but it is clear we just can't get it all done today...Can we meet again at X ?

6) You can also use the bathroom escape...I hope you'll forgive me, but I must have had too much coffee this morning...I'll be right back...then go to the restroom scream into the toilet paper if necessary, take 6 deep breaths and return with your best smile!!

7) On the edge of tears (remember your nutrition before engaging in battle...more potassium will lessen teary potential)...excuse yourself with the coffee thing...or that you're having trouble with a contact lens...KEEP TISSUE WITH YOU! Be sure to excuse yourself BEFORE you become a basket case.

8) Keep a smile on your face and make them wonder what you've been up to!!

9) Take along another adult for "support"...have them keep the meeting on track. Like one of our readers said, don't let them focus on how the paper got lost, keep them focused on the content of the paper.

10) Prepare yourself with lots of papers...and enough copies for each member of the group (no excuse for them to delay with the copier machine). Make sure these papers are authoritative in nature...some research in addition to your correspondence is great.

11) Don't be afraid to have a mini agenda of the things you want to discuss in that notebook...make sure each is covered and check them off noticeably.

12) Remember that you have the unique opportunity to focus all of your energy on your children...while they have several hundred to keep track of. You know your child best...and don't let them convince you otherwise.

13) Strategic Withdrawal of Forces: "I don't believe we are accomplishing anything productive and I do have other things to attend to....Our next meeting is scheduled for....Who is going to take responsibility to see that the promised reports are done ? Who is going to do the psych testing? Who is responsible for the speech testing? ...etc." Determine accountability and adjourn.

Written by Shirley Fitzgerald,RN
Shirley's Home Page
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