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BY Jennifer

How to change a NO to a Yes: Advocating for your child with special needs

Advocating for your childThe Stress of Advocacy

In addition to the typical day-to day activities of homework and extracurricular activities, I have the physical and emotional stress of knowing that my thirteen year old daughter is very dependent on my decisions for her success in the world.

Regardless of my parenting at home, my two sons will be welcomed at their neighborhood school and participate in typical activities without much effort from me.  A few poor school meetings for my daughter with special needs and my desire to have her in her neighborhood school may be thwarted.

No, No, and Again No!

Once in a while, I find myself in a conversation that is going in circles.  I make a request for my daughter.  I feel like it is reasonable and it will help my daughter to be more successful or I have made a suggestion to solve a problem.  The response I receive is some version of, “No,” so I re-explain the necessity only to be told, “No,” again.  I am slow to recognize that the person talking to me feels like their work is done because they have told me that my solution is not possible.

Parents of children with special needs feel a deep loyalty and love for their children.  It is not possible to leave our children in situations where we do not feel they are loved, honored, and valued.  Therefore, we will be very involved in making sure they are well cared for. We will try again and again until the no becomes yes.

How to get a YES to your requests

  1. Get Help
    If you find yourself in a conversation that seems to be going in circles, then you need to bring in someone else to help you.  The passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA 2004) made parents of children with disabilities crucial member of their child’s educational team.  Is there someone else on the educational team that you think will hear your concerns?
  2. Careful Communication
    How long does it take you to recognize a conversation (in person or in an email) that is going in circles?  I have learned to never have more than three email exchanges–if it is too complex to solve in a simple email message–then pick up the phone and talk to the person directly.  If you are talking with someone that you find frustrating, take some notes about the most frustrating comments and then call someone else to help you.  However, regardless of how hurt you feel you must always remain professional and polite.
  3. Go Up The Ladder
    Someone once told me to go “up the food chain” of command.  What he meant was to keep calling people until you find someone that can help.  In addition, there are many organizations that offer free educational advocacy. Find a supervisor to help with the most difficult situations.  In the relationships that you build with staff members and their supervisors, figure out who understands inclusion and believes in the endless possibilities for your child.  Then reach out to that person to help you.  There may be someone in charge of the principals that understands inclusion and can help steer things in the right direction.Warning:
    Keep in mind that you are trying to build positive working relationships.  Classroom teachers do not like it when parents report them to their principals. In addition, school teams will not usually disagree with one another in front of a parent.  Politely telling someone that you need help with this, and that you want to involve more people (so that a solution can be found), prevents the person from feeling surprised when you bring in someone else to help you.


Overall, I have learned that including my daughter in school is more public than I expected.  Many people are involved in helping to create positive, productive school experiences for her.  I must admit that I have shed a few tears this month.  However, my daughter has experienced typical classes, a school dance, the cross country team, a choir concert, and is joined at school this year by her younger brother.  I hope my lessons help you with the work of providing your child with a wonderful education.


Written on October 10, 2011 by:

Jennifer Greening, Ed.S. is the author of Opening Doors, Opening Lives: Creating awareness of advocacy, inclusion, and education for our children with special needs. Her book is used in university classes across the country. It received positive reviews from the Autism Society of Michigan and was awarded 2010 Best Books Award Finalist by USA Book News. Visit her website at

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