This is a reality for too many families. It leads to parents worrying that their child’s needs are not being met. In many cases, the school is doing everything it can to address those needs, but time is constrained. It can be difficult to adequately discuss what is in the best interest of the child’s mental health when the school’s mandates are developing skills in reading and writing, and teachers have to dedicate large amounts of time toward documenting progress. And, unfortunately in some cases, the real issues and solutions do go unaddressed.
Let’s talk about children dealing with trauma as an example. Often, school staff will look at a child’s behavior and think, “what is wrong with this child?” versus “what happened to this child?” It is not ill-intentioned on the part of the school staff. They simply may not have the time, training or resources to delve deeper. So let’s think about a child with no trauma history. He is walking down the halls and someone bumps into him. He may say “Oh I’m sorry” or “Excuse me” and then continue on into class and start his reading. Whereas a child with a trauma history gets bumped and they may perceive the bumper as a threat and automatically go into fight or flight mode. This may result in aggression or it may result in the child shutting down. This child may now enter the classroom and stare blankly at the walls and appear to ignore the teacher’s requests to get the reading book out and start an assignment. The school may interpret this behavior one way (e.g. attention issues), call the parents in for a meeting, proceed so quickly with their agenda and their unintentionally intimidating process/language, that the real issue goes completely unaddressed. However, if the parent has an advocate by their side that understands mental health AND the schools, the barriers can be broken and all can work together to truly get at the root of the problems and help the child. The advocate becomes the interpreter not only of the “school lingo” but of the child’s behavior and mental health.
Now none of this is to say that the school personnel do not have the child’s best interest at heart. I think it is fair to say that no one enters a public education career for the money or prestige. They enter the field because they want to care for and guide children towards a brighter future. When teachers are assigned 25-30 kids with diverse needs, to whom standardized testing requirements are applied, and they are tasked with making “adequate yearly progress” these well-intentioned teachers suddenly have a time issue. They simply cannot do it all and do it all as well as they’d like with the limited time and resources provided to them, even when they all work well beyond their allotted hours. Therefore, they generally welcome an “interpreter” helping them to understand the child’s behaviors and needs.
Where does this leave families who walk out of the school meetings bewildered and worried? Several years ago, a wise man told me that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” In order to get what you want, you have to ask for it. You have to advocate for it. But how can you do this in a way that won’t alienate the school team members? How can you be the “squeaky wheel” that makes the school team genuinely consider your child’s needs because they understand it is the best thing to do, rather than to make you go away?
This is where some homework needs to be done. The school has certain requirements and restrictions they have to follow. They also have their own foreign language to describe and work through their processes. What does someone do when they need to understand a foreign language? They bring an interpreter. Having this interpreter/advocate by your side to clarify and expand is crucial to understanding what is happening. An educational advocate can speak both languages (of the school and of the family) and serve as an interpreter, mediator, and guide.
If you are finding yourself in need of an “interpreter” to work with you and your child’s school, please contact our office as it will be our pleasure to consult with you and determine if our services could help you and your child achieve greater success.