Ken Shyminsky, a former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as an teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.
School meetings are most often difficult for the parent but so important for your child. Your child is special, requires special accommodations, your child’s behavior doesn’t follow the normal or expected behavior or your child isn’t learning as well as he or she could.
Perhaps it’s not your first meeting or perhaps the strategies being implemented aren’t working. Perhaps your child’s teacher or school administration isn’t understanding your child’s difficulties and differences or are unable to offer help. In any case, it usually provides for a stressful time for the parent … trying to make things better for your child.
I have attended countless school meetings. My son, having Tourette Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Oppositional Defiance Disorder, provides an unending barrage of challenges for the adults who help to shape his life.
Some of these school meetings have gone well, some have been a complete disaster. I have survived them, dreaded them and finally, I now feel blessed that the adults in my child’s school understand his differences, see his challenges and strengths, listen to him and help to guide him and teach him.
In the past, have been at school meetings because my child was suspended for behaviour that was out of his control. I have been to school meetings where I have been face to face with an adult who told my son he was faking and didn’t have Tourette Syndrome or coprolalia.
I have been to school meetings where I have been asked to keep my child home for all or part of school days. I have been to school meetings where administration has asked my child’s psychiatrist how they can “turn a blind eye to his behavior and just let him get away with it?” It has been a very heartbreaking and difficult road.
I have not always been able to follow these tips that I will share, but I do know that even the really, really bad school meetings would have been a little better if I had been able to remember these tips for school meetings:
- Keep an open mind and always assume that the players are acting with the common goal of helping your child. They are your team and you need to have a good working relationship. Unless you are going to up and leave the school you must work with them. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they do want to make things better for your child just like you do. If you are considering them as an opponent, your focus should be getting them on your team.
- Keep an ongoing record and bring it to all your appointments. As you probably know, you will often encounter the same questions from numerous players on the team. Keep dates of diagnoses, medical professionals you’ve consulted, medications you’ve tried and what the outcomes were. Ask for copies of consults to keep in your medical file.
- Keep a record of your school meetings — who was present, what the discussion covered, what strategies were to be implemented and what the next steps will be and when they will occur. If you have items that need to be covered in the meeting prepare an agenda and give it to the school ahead of time. In the school meeting jot down notes to keep for your school file.
- Know your rights and your child’s rights. Read about the process of getting your child identified, having accommodations implemented or changing placement in your school board. It is a legal process and prompting, “OK, so this should be reviewed by this date, etc” lets them know that you have expectations about the process and will follow up. Be sure to allow the players time to respond to whatever issue is on the table before trumping them with a higher upper. Everyone deserves a chance to do their part on the team.
- Provide resources as a helpful gesture if you think there is an understanding gap. Use information and resources that you are familiar with and have been helpful to you and your child. Make the resource as specific to the situation and to your child as possible so it doesn’t seem overwhelming or intimidating. Be selective and specific about resources you provide.
- Bring someone with you. A friend or family member who is familiar with your child and his or her differences can be a big support. It can be intimidating to walk alone into a room with many unfamiliar faces. Moral support it great, a second set of ears is always helpful and if you begin to stumble or get off track they can prompt you back to the discussion.
- Be kind and respectful. Share your wishes, what works for you at home, what you think might work better at school. Emotions tend to surface but try to keep cool. People in general are more willing to listen to you and take value from what you say if you are kind and present your ideas nicely. Everyone tends to shut down when being told what to do.
Good luck! Make school meetings a positive experience. Remember that you are a very important member of your child’s school team!