Article by Abby Twyman, M.Ed., BCBA
We’re half way through 2012 and it’s almost time for a new school year. Can you believe it? I know I can’t. I wanted to end this month, which is “Freedom from Fear of Speaking Month”, with a message to parents and professionals about speaking up and speaking out. There have been many times in my career, and in my life, when I’ve thought something was not quite right but I was afraid to say something to address the problem. Why? Fear was probably number one on the list of reasons why not to speak up. The problem is, however, that problems never got solved because I never got up the guts to speak up and speak out.
Anyone who knows me personally knows I no longer have this problem. If I see something wrong, I say something. Simple as that. What I’ve learned to do, and my advice to everyone out there in the Autism Community, is to not just bring up the problem but to actually think critically about what could be done to solve the problem. When I follow a few simple guidelines before bringing up an issue, I’m much more prepared for the conversation that will follow and problems tend to get solved much faster. Here are the steps I follow:
1. Identify the problem: These are the specifics of the problem (who, what, when, where, how often, etc.) which will help people understand clearly the problem you’re talking about.
2. Identify what is causing the problem: This is the reason the problem is occurring (why). You may not have enough information to determine exactly why a problem is occurring, but you can probably make a guess.
3. Identify what SHOULD be happening: This is the goal. Instead of the problem, what would you like to see happening?
4. Identify potential solutions: This is your action plan. What steps could be taken to reach the goal?
5. Identify potential barriers: What are the variables which may impede reaching the goal?
After you have all this information prepared, you’ll be ready to sit down with your team and have a conversation about the problem. Rather than just talking about the problems, though, you’ll have ideas for how to solve the problem which should direct the conversation toward a group decision much more quickly.
So to all the parents and professionals out there, please take this piece of advice to heart and use it this school year. There are many problems that can be solved if we all speak up and speak out and work together to come up with a solution. The worst thing a team can do it stop talking about what each team member sees as important or as a problem. If we stop working together, the students are the ones that suffer.
- Challenge your fears. What is the worst that could happen? Usually, we let our fears grow from mole-hills to mountains. Keep your perspective.
- You don’t have to be perfect. You just need to be able to deliver your message. Preparation and rehearsal will help to smooth out your delivery.
- Keep your message to a few key points. This is where a lot of pressure comes from. We want to share all of our information, but our audience doesn’t need to be overloaded. A few key points with relevant examples and stories go a lot further than oodles of facts and statistics.