I went to my son’s IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) Meeting at school to discuss his progress in 4th grade. The team includes his teacher, a Special Education Teacher, a Speech/Language Pathologist, an Occupational Therapist, an Assistive Technology Facilitator and an Inclusion Specialist. Aside from his teacher, my son has been with each of the other people since Kindergarten. They have been extremely helpful in his educational and social development in the last five years. I am very grateful to have them in my son’s life. But what really sets them apart in my eyes is not their education, not their expertise, but their “bedside manner.” They care about my son and his progress. They have many heartfelt stories of his “glows” and improvements. They send me emails about things that my son has done or said that made them feel good, which of course makes me feel good.
Today I told them I was just thinking back recently to my initial experience with the “special needs” world. It started with his Early Intervention assessment meeting. My son was 18 months old, and it was my mom who said to me, “I think there is something wrong, have him checked out.” As a tired mom of two, I was actually very defensive and said, “Mom, you’re just overreacting. He is fine.” But she insisted. So I called the number and set up the meeting. In my living room I had five professionals, rattling off questions, and observing my son. After the hour, they each gave me a “verbal report” in technical language of how far behind he was in every area, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, verbal and non-verbal communications, social skills, etc. Each of them treated my son like he was just this “specimen” or “lab rat” they were observing. From my point of view, none of them felt like they were even talking about a human being, much less an 18 month old child. When they left, I just burst into tears.
Thereafter, he participated in many therapy sessions, and by age 3, he attended a preschool for learning disabled children. Once again, I was in front of an entire team of professionals discussing his progress during his two years of preschool. Once again, I was incredibly disappointed in the team’s demeanor of treating my son like a “lab rat.” They rattled off their reports and recommendations in highly technical language, and not one of them mentioned anything remotely human. Like, “he’s a joy to have in class…he’s great at this task.” Every meeting was structured and robotic.
So today after my meeting with the wonderful team at my son’s elementary school, I realized something. I am often asked, “What makes me different?” or “What is your competitive advantage?” I realized that what makes me different is not quantifiable, is not analytical and is not logical. What makes me different is that I care. A lot. I want to help my clients and their families and make them feel heard and understood. I want to be there in times of sadness, of conflict, of frustration, of confusion and of course in times of happiness as well. So instead of treating my clients in a clinical way by spouting off legal terms in a robotic way, I treat my clients like human beings, and listen to their life stories. I know you may think there are so many attorneys who say the same thing. Well, yes, I’m certainly not the only attorney who has good “bedside” manner. But in my general experience with all professionals, there really is only a small percentage who actually do have good “bedside” manner.
I share my story about my son because I have been on the receiving end of a team of good professionals and a team of not so good professionals. I know for certain that I will always strive to be one of the “good professionals” in my clients’ lives, and their families’ lives in the future.