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The Power of Facts Over Emotion When Advocating for Your Child With a Disability

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This week I had a negative school bus-related incident involving one of my kids that was very traumatic and not handled well by those involved. My first reaction was a desire to go into momma bear mode. If you’ve ever encountered a woman in this mode, you know exactly what I mean. It’s when we moms get supercharged, wanting to take on the world to protect or stand up for our children. Nothing and no one can (or would dare) get in our way.

Thankfully for those involved, I was in another city conducting workshops for a client. The incident actually happened while I was speaking, with my phone turned off. By the time my husband got a hold of me to tell me what happened, all involved had long gone home for the the day. And to no surprise, my husband had dealt with the immediate situation like a super dad.

As we chatted (with him trying to keep me calm), my husband briefed me on the limited details he had about what had occurred. Coincidentally, I had just given a “How to Advocate for Kids With Disabilities” workshop to a group of parents a few nights before. The points I stress include not being the emotion and the power of facts.

As I stewed in my hotel room, my own words came back to me. Start with figuring out, and getting clear on the facts. Despite my temptation to write a nasty email, ccing anyone I could think of, instead I turned my attention towards the internet.

Research time

My first start was hitting Google. I had enough details about what had happened and how it was handled to begin my search. I typed in “student rights and responsibilities on a school bus.” I quickly found links to documents from school boards across North America. I got immediate confirmation that what I was looking for does exist. I began reading documents from my province to ensure I had a local context.

Then I went to my kids’ school district to find the local policies and procedures. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

After a bit more online sleuthing, I was able to find documents from nearby school districts. Perfect. I had some solid facts on what is allowed, not allowed and how incidents should be handled on school buses.

Facts are your friend

Armed with the facts, I then began composing my email to address the situation.

Now here is the important point. If I had started my complaint without getting clear on the facts, it would have been an emotionally charged email and would have come across as the rantings of a upset parent. By taking the time to figure out the facts, I was able to compose an email that was harder to dismiss. Here’s what happened with my child, here’s what other school boards state regarding rights and responsibilities and here’s how they were not followed in our situation.

I was then able to connect my concerns with facts, not just emotions. I moved the discussion from personal to procedural, which is much harder to dispute or dismiss. And when I did get the local rights and responsibilities document I was searching for, I had further ammunition in the form of proof procedure was not being followed. It can be hard to advocate when you don’t know the playbook (and can’t point out when protocol isn’t followed).

At the end of the day, and many conversations and meetings later, I’m reminded of the importance of facts in advocacy. Yes, the emotions are often what rise to the surface and motivate us to act, positively or negatively. But it is the facts, not the emotions, that will help move us towards resolution.

As someone who is more emotional than analytical, it has taken me a few years to truly value and appreciate the importance of facts. But now, instead of avoiding or dreading them, I take the time to lay out the facts when advocating.

How are you using the power of facts in advocating for yourself or loved one? Do you take the time to do your research and lay out the facts or do you have more of a shoot from the hip approach, leading with your emotions? I encourage you to take time to get clear on the facts before you advocate. I promise, it will be a game changer.

Getty image by NuPenDekDee.

Originally published: January 12, 2020
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