How to Advocate for Your Special Needs Child

Have you ever heard of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP)? It is the study of what makes someone a good communicator. NLP techniques can be useful when you are advocating for your child with special needs; when you’re trying to encourage professionals and other adults to do the best for your son or daughter.

Subtle Art of Changing Attitudes

Why do you instinctively trust some people who you barely know after only just meeting them? Why do you immediately distrust other individuals? Why are some counselors more effective than others? Why are some workshop presenters so much more interesting than others? Those are the questions that NLP studies.

I’m sure we’ve all shown up at Individualized Educational Program (IEP) or other meetings where you were confronted with a belligerent face across the table. You immediately felt defensive. Maybe you felt angry, or maybe like crying. Don’t feel discouraged. There are many things you can do to change this situation.

Have you ever tried to cheer up a friend who was depressed, or calmed a friend who was angry? Well, then you already know a little of it. It is very tempting to prepare to show up at a meeting with guns blazing, prepared to fight for everything your child deserves. Many times this works, but at a cost. Others will become resentful, less open to honest candor, and frequently defensive. Try a different tactic first.

Advocate by Promoting Trust, Openness and Effort

I’m not saying that you should turn into a Pollyanna, saying everything is wonderful, nothing is wrong, and lets all be friends. Ouch! I think I just gave myself a cavity with that sugary thought. There are, however, many subtle ways to encourage trust, openness, and a willingness to truly work with you for the good of your child.

Achieving a positive frame of mind in the members present should be one of the top goals. There are many fun techniques for this. Have you seen or heard any good jokes lately. Bring them. Have you read any fun articles that are pertinent to the meeting? Make copies and bring them. Hand them out at the beginning of the meeting to lighten things up. Bring snacks. Actually, the school district officials that I meet with always bring snacks and it does wonders for making a nice comfortable atmosphere. If the professionals don’t, think about bringing homemade cookies or something.

Casually thank people who say nice things about your child. Even more subtle, say something nice about THEM each time they say something nice about your child. Very quickly everyone in the room will stop saying how much trouble your child is and will focus on the positive aspects.

Setting the tone at the start of a meeting is very important. Try to start the meeting yourself before the professionals take over. Tell some stories about your child. Focus on success stores, or what wonderful things have happened with your child over the year at home and at school. You can always talk about the problem areas later, but it is very important that everyone be in the right frame of mind first.

NLP Communication Techniques

Here are some even more subtle Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) techniques. You will need to practice these a bit first. For the sake of brevity I have oversimplified some of these techniques.

  • Pace your communication. How slow or fast is the person talking? What is the cadence of their speech? First match their pace and cadence, then slowly change your speed, cadence, pitch, etc. Those in the room will unconsciously change to match yours. Have you ever noticed that in a group discussion, one person will frequently dominate the conversation? Well this is one way to change it and make sure you are heard.
  • If a person is upset, match their speech, but just a little bit slower and quieter. Gradually slow down and quiet down. They will follow and start calming down.
  • What words are they using? Is the person saying I see what you mean (a visual learner), I hear what your saying (an auditory learner), I understand how you feel (a kinesthetic learner)? If those in the room are using a preponderance of visual words, make sure you use mostly those type of words. A person who communicates using the same learning channel words as the listener will be perceived as someone who understands and can be trusted. If the room is mixed, make sure that you mix your style of words and not use only the words that fit your learning channel.

There are lots of good books on the subject of NLP out there. But here is one of the ones I use:

Introducing Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Joseph OConnor and John Seymour, 2011.