In the same way that taking data is a key element of applied behaviour analysis, documentation and written communication is the key to effective Special Education Advocacy.
What is the benefit of sharing information with the school?
If you have a child in elementary school who has special education needs, you will need to know how to write letters to the school. You want your letters to express a desire to work collaboratively for the benefit of your child. By communicating and sharing information with the school, you encourage the school to communicate and share information with you in return.
What are some reasons to write a letter to your child’s school?
Your very first letter to the school should be a letter describing your child. His or her strengths and interests, likes and dislikes, special skills and odd behaviours, any health issues, and any relevant experiences that you want to share with the school that might help them understand your child better.
Your future letters might be to request information or clarification, or to request a particular program or service, or it might be to document an incident that occurred or a meeting that took place.
Writing letters is a form of documentation. It is a way to share information and it allows us to have a record of something that happened or something that was requested. If it is not in writing, you have no proof that it happened or what was said.
How to write a letter to the school
Before you write a letter to the school you should ask yourself; what is the purpose of this letter? What am I trying to accomplish? Is it to request information or implementation of a program or service? Is it to provide information to the school about your child's needs? Is it to decline a suggestion or a request made by the school principal? Is it to complement the school staff on a job well done? Is it for the purpose of documenting an incident?
If you are angry with the school because of an incident that has occurred or because of an action that has not been taken, my advice is to get started right away to write down all your thoughts and feelings. Go on... get them ALL out. This one is for you - for your emotional health and wellness. When you are finished, tear it up and start again.
Pretend that you are writing to someone who doesn't know you, your child, or the current situation. You may want to send a copy to the director of education who may not know you, your child, or the situation. Keep in mind that letters that you write now will be filed in your child's Record of Education (ROE) and may be read by different school administrators or by a member of an appeal board or tribunal. So provide some background information but write the letter with only as much detail as necessary so that a stranger would understand the situation from your point of view. Try not to repeat yourself and don't be too wordy. If the letter goes on and on the reader will lose interest and the letter will lose impact.
Don't be judgmental and never demand, threaten, blame, or show your anger or frustration. Keep your feelings and emotions out of the letter. You want to keep the reader interested, not defensive or anxious. Stick to factual information and keep your opinions to a minimum.
If you are writing an important letter to a school, it should be like a business letter. Make sure that it's polished and professional. Begin your letter chronologically and develop it chronologically. Make sure that it is interesting and easy to follow.
Face to face communication vs. written communication
When we communicate face to face, we have the benefit of immediate feedback and answers to our questions. We can also listen to other's point-of-view and answer their questions. This allows us to steer our communication message in one direction or another depending on the other side's comments, questions and answers. In addition, we have the benefit of non-verbal communication and if we're talented, we can 'hear' what's not being said. One danger of face to face communication is that we often get side-tracked and go off on less important issues than the ones that we intended to address. Another danger is that you can't take back something once it has been said.
When you write a letter, you have the luxury of deleting something you wrote and re-writing it. After you have written the letter DON'T send it right away. Sleep on it. Chances are you will think of something else that you want to say, or a different way of saying it so that it is more effective.
Proofreading your letter
When reviewing your letter for content, spelling and grammar, always read your letter aloud and read every word. Don't let your mind assume that words are there when they're not. If possible, have someone else read it and provide feedback regarding the tone of the letter. Does the letter make your point or accomplish your goal? Effective letter writing skills are a key part of successful advocacy. Take the time to get it right, before you send it to your child's school.
Karen Robinson provides special education advocacy training and consulting services to parents and guardians whose children have autism and other developmental disabilities. She develops her clients into informed, proactive advocates for their children's educational needs. They are empowered by current, customized information that enables them to articulate their children's needs to school staff and school board administrators in a way that is both assertive and collaborative.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about how Karen can help you advocate for an appropriate school placement for your child.
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