Communication – What to do when things are not working

“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey

Sculpture at Old Town Albuquerque Museum


Communication is so important to the work we do as parents, partners, advocates, human beings it needs to be studied so we can all become good at it.

When Adriana was developing her speech and we had her first IEP meeting to determine what outcomes we wanted, the first one was very easy, we wanted her to be able to communicate her wants and needs. Well that goal has been accomplished and continues to cause trouble anytime she wants or needs something.

As advocates for our children, we need to ensure we set our feelings aside and concentrate on the outcomes, the goals we have for them. This is easier said than done because we are their parents, we have feelings for them, and we are doing our job to look out for their well-being. So how do we get better at it?

  1. Determine what is the problem

When things are not working for your kid it could be for a variety of situations or reasons. When sharing the problem with the teacher, doctor or therapist we want to make sure we are clear on what the problem is. My child is having a hard time understanding the material, he spends too much time doing his homework, the pills are too large to swallow, she gets tired when I try to do the exercises you recommended, etc. Be as specific as possible

  1. Prioritize the problem

You might have more than one problem to bring to the table don’t lump them all into the same conversation. Pick which one is the most important and start by solving that one first. I have found that sometimes by solving that problem, explaining why it is a problem for my kid other things fall into place and there is an “aha” moment that helps fix other problems.

  1. Explain why it is a problem

Children are different, even if they have the same disability or ability. What might work for one student or patient may not work for another. As parents, we need to be able to express why the problem is a problem, what is not working and why. This shows the professionals that we are trying to work with the instructions they gave us, we are doing our part, and it is just not working.

  1. List some possible solutions

As parents we have developed the “magic words”, or tricks that we have to work with our kids to convince them to do homework, chores, take a bath, take their meds, and we need to share those with the professionals. We need to work as a team so our kids can’t play us and see we are a unified front. You are the one that knows your kid the best, and are the only constant in their life, what you bring to the table as possible solutions is very valuable.

  1. State what you see as an outcome

We all want our kids to have a happy, healthy childhood in which they interact with their siblings, peers and end up being happy young adults ready to enter the workforce and leave the nest. Some of us know that this is not going to happen for our child with a disability, but that doesn’t mean we do not have this as an outcome. We have to share this vision and outcomes with the professionals that work with our kids.

  1. Listen

Now pause and take a breath, listen to what the professionals have to say. Ask questions; find out more about where they are coming from with their solutions and ideas, their experiences in working with other kids like yours.

  1. List some resources or partners that can help solve the problem

I know you have done your homework, so share it with the professionals, with your team. Ask them for resources or ideas on how together you can solve the problem and come to a resolution that can benefit everyone.

  1. Know what to do if you cannot find resolution

Sometimes, you might just have to table the discussion for a later date, or because you need more information to try other alternatives. Perhaps you need more tests to make other determinations or rule out a diagnosis. Maybe you can suggest trying something for a grading period and seeing how it works and do a follow up meeting to see if you put the solution in place permanently.

Then there are times when nothing works and you know you stood up for your kid and his or her needs. Communication gives us options and different ways of doing things. However there are times when we cannot seem to agree with the team.  We will talk about conflict resolution in another post.



Luz Adriana

My name is Luz Adriana Martinez and for the past 27 years I have been working in the field of advocacy for children with disabilities. I hold an MBA from the University of Phoenix and a BA from the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico. I'm married to a great guy, Tito, an Army Veteran of 22 years, who supports all the crazy things I do. Being an Army wife also prepared us to be always on the move and without daddy for long periods of time. This also gave me the opportunity work and volunteer with organizations whose mission was to assist other military families. This blog results from my desire to give back to the many families that have given me and mine so much. I have had the fortune to be able to travel the world assisting military families and now that that stage of my life is over, I want to continue to share what I have learned in the hopes that I can still provide some information and resources to families who need it.

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Thanks for the comment. Anything else we should be talking about?