Monday, September 28, 2009

Unexpectedly Effective Advocacy Skill #6: Analogies

Since learning about my daughter’s diagnosis of Down syndrome and my son’s diagnosis of Non-Verbal Learning Disorder in the early 1990’s I have embraced advocacy skills—the skills of ‘speaking up.’ I have learned about successful advocacy through workshops, books and mentors and I have used these skills to change my kids’ personal situations, to improve systems and to promote public policies that support the recognition of the full citizenship of people with disabilities. Along the way I have picked up a few tricks that aren’t usually mentioned as advocacy skills, yet they work for me. Perhaps you will find them useful as well.

One of the techniques I have used to reach understanding with people who work with my kids is word pictures or analogies. Now this must be applied with a respectful touch--like anything else it could be insulting if you are not thoughtful (Obviously insults NEVER lead to understanding--which is in fact why people use them, but I digress... )

Sometimes, with our complex and highly individual kids, it can be hard to get people to understand them. It is common to try reports, evaluations, expert testimony, but sometimes providing information is not not enough to build understanding. (I have blogged about this before!)

When you are negotiating with a team about placement or classroom strategies or with legislators about removing community barriers and information fails to build the needed bridge many folks get frustrated and stomp out.

I would suggest that they have more tricks to try--they aren't done yet.

The next thing to try is a description of the things that are happening now (for example if your child is succeeding in Sunday school but not in Social Studies) or things that are possible if the new strategies or laws are implemented.

This is the time to be descriptive--supporting this with photos and more can also be helpful.

Yet, sometimes this fails also. The people you are talking to don't see what you mean still, they don't see how this relates to them--or they plain don't believe you.

Nope, it still isn't time to quit or throw huge tantrums--tempting though that will be!

Along with all of the above tools I recommend the using of analogies, metaphors and comparisons to add reach to bridge you are trying to build. When a teacher or a legislator is not be able to imagine our children responding the way we say they will or that they should do what we are saying they should, try comparing the situation with something familiar that seems similar in tone.

Over the years I have compared:

*My son's accommodations--which his team saw as cheating--with eyeglasses (I tell the whole story here.)

*My daughter's need for both OT and PT with her need for both mittens AND boots.

*My son's need for separating input from output when he learns with juggling (and my lack of ability to do it!)

*My son's need for teaching organization skills with the way Spanish is taught. (This one started out REALLY heated because they were one day trying to encourage him to be organized by telling him he was smart, the next day they tried negative reinforcement and kept him after school... no one was teaching him what they wanted him to know.... grrrr....)

*My son's learning disability with a scene from a popular movie where someone was walking along through the woods and suddenly fell into a hole and no one knew where the character had gone. Can't remember the movie right now... some army flick...

Something to add to your bag of tricks... let me know how it goes!

Picture from here.


terena said...

that comment about how your daughter needs mittens AND boots made me laugh. that's a great one.

Terri said...

Thanks Terena, I also pointed out to one of my son's teams that Stephen Hawkings has handwriting issues and he makes pretty good use of HIS education... I admit to thinking I'm funny, and when I play it right the team agrees...

Ashley's Mom said...

I tried an analogy at our August IEP meeting this year. My daughter is deafblind. The staff at her new high school wanted to stop providing an aide for her - said she needed to develop some independence.

I asked if there was a deaf child in the classroom, would they take away his hearing aides to make him more independent. I asked would they take away the glasses of a visually impaired child to make that child more independent.

My deafblind daughter NEEDS an aide, and apparently my analogies worked because she got the aide.