This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

How to Get Your Document Read - Persuasive Writing

As parents of special needs kids, we write all the time. Quick emails, formal documentation, requests/ demands for services or resources... how many times do you feel like they just stuck your document in the round file?

Here's how to get your documents read:

First, what is the purpose of your document? 

  • Persuasive/ Call to Action (You want someone to do something)
    * Know exactly what you want, and write to that goal.
    * Leave out everything else (KISS)
    * Think about it from your audience's perspective.
    _____What are their goals and motivations? _____Say it in a way that will speak to your readers. Make them want to do what you want them to do._____Make it clear and easy to do what you want them to do.
    _____Use words that inspire enthusiasm or make them feel better about themselves. 

    Instead of:
     “Look at the school's policy on bullying,” 
    Try This: "You can help stop bullying in your school.

    Instead of:

    "Forgive me for being blunt, but at the end of Bear's junior year in high school as I look at Bear’s declining grades and spotty attendance over the last semester, send yet another e-mail, leave yet another unreturned message with the Associate Principal and [BEHAVIOR PROGRAM] office, talk to yet another counselor or [BEHAVIOR PROGRAM] Aide, talk to yet another teacher about major projects Bear hasn’t even worked on… knowing that none of my repeated requests for assistance with Bear’s steadily declining behavior are being addressed, especially now that there’s little more than a week of school left… I’m feeling a little FRUSTRATED to say the least. I am therefore officially requesting an immediate IEP meeting."
    Try This:
    "I am concerned that Bear is a danger to himself and others. I am officially requesting an IEP meeting."
    Instead of:
    "Kitty was sick a lot during the last 6 weeks. She's missing assignments and not prepared for the test tomorrow. We need you to simplify or drop the missing assignments. Obviously, she can't take the test tomorrow."

    Try This:
    "Kitty needs your help! She's missed a lot of classes due to serious illnesses. She's working hard to catch-up in your class (and all others) but unfortunately will not be ready for the test tomorrow. She plans to attend your tutorial hours after school

         To learn more about the right way (and wrong way) to handle this in an IEP meeting, CLICK HERE.

  • Informative - Something you want to be read, but doesn't require immediate action on the part of the reader.
    * Keep this short and relevant if you want it to be read!
    * One page at most.

    Don't hand a teacher a book or a long article about RAD and expect him/ her to read it. 
    Instead, give the teacher a short summary applicable to his/her needs. Include information about the book or article so the teacher can do more research if he/ she wishes. This also lets the teacher know this is not just your opinion.
         One Page Summary of Your Child's Diagnoses and Issues     New School Year Letter - to make sure everyone is on the same page.

    It's always amazing to me what people will believe when it's in writing  (vs hearing a parent say it) - no matter how super calm and logical you are)!
  • Documenting - Generally a CYA (Cover Your A$$) or to hold others accountable.
    This will most likely just be stuck in your child's file, but it lets you say, "You were informed on such and such dates about each of these incidents."
    Ex. Incident Reports
    One of the main things to remember about documentation is to do it as SOON as possible after an incident.  Adrenaline and time alter memories quickly. 

    To document conversations and phone calls-
    Send the people involved an email or letter (keep a copy) that puts what was said in writing.

    You can email a confirmation letter to the person you had the discussion with, and copy everyone that needs to know (which helps hold everyone accountable).

    Include bullet points about what each of us agreed to (especially if the other person is supposed to be doing something).

    Documenting can help protect you from false allegations, get services for your child, and make sure chronic issues get addressed. - Document! Document! Document!) 

  • Formal Request - Always put requests in writing, especially when dealing with your child's School  (for assessments, for an IEP meeting or parent/ teacher conference, for a review of your child's file...)  This is usually a requirement by the school, and it is needed to start the countdown.
    Ex. Typically schools have 30 days to respond to a written request for an assessment.

    Always Put It in Writing!
  • Venting - go crazy with this. Write as much as you want. Be emotional. YELL! Bitch. Whine. Complain. Tell them how they messed up and how it hurt you, your child, your family... Share it with your friends. Share it with your therapist. Use it as a basis for a persuasive letter, but most importantly.

    Ex. of a letter I should not have sent - What My Child Learned From Not Getting Consequences in School.


10 Key Points to Persuasive Writing 

1. KISS (Keep it Short and Simple!)

What points do you NEED to make? Keep these simple and few.

If there are more than a couple of points than you can explain quickly and concisely think about separating them into more than one letter/ document.

2. People might read one page; they won't read a novel.

No rambling. No novels. No background information, unless it vital to what you want, and totally relevant. {Yes, this is a case of do as I say, not as I do!}

3. Lots of White Space and Headings

People skim. If a document looks like a War and Peace novel, they probably won't even read more than a sentence or two.

Break the information up into lots of little paragraphs rather than one or two long ones. This is not an English essay or a research paper! 2-3 sentences max.

4. Know Your Audience

Don't forget. Just because you're writing to your friendly caseworker, doesn't mean someone higher up isn't going to see this. You don't have to be formal, but skip the small talk and the backstory. You can do that on the phone (or not at all).
"Letter to the Stranger"
When you write letters to a school, these letters will often be read by strangers. Many important decisions about your child's education are made by strangers. What impression will your letter make on a stranger? Will the stranger see you as an angry, negative complainer? Or will the Stranger see you as a rational, thoughtful parent who is expressing valid concerns?
When you write letters, keep this "stranger" in your mind’s eye. Who is the "stranger"? What does he look like? How does he think?
Judges are strangers. Most judges aren’t knowledgeable about special education or children with disabilities. When you write letters, you are trying to educate and inform the "stranger."
- See more at:
Remember, when you CC: or BCC: people but start the email with "Dear Ms. So and So," the average person will ignore the email because they assume it wasn't written for them.
(This is fine if you are just Documenting and only want it on record that they were informed).

5. TMI - Anything You Say, Can and Will Be Held Against You

This is not the place to vent or ask for emotional support. Always remember that if you show signs that you are struggling and/or failing, then that can be held against you. Rather than receive help, I've often felt judged and people unfairly use this information as an excuse to blame me for my children's issues and/ or blow me off as overemotional and overreacting.  

Generally, people are looking for excuses not to help you. They'd rather say, you can't handle this child so we're moving him, or making you take parenting classes, or ignoring you... rather than spend time and money supporting you. I won't say that a lot of their decisions are made based on short-term goals and money, but it certainly feels that way, more often than not.

Do not share personal information! I think we (especially women) tend to talk about our personal lives too often and to the wrong people and at the wrong time. A lot of times, we have to share intimate details of our lives with so many people (ex. home studies) that the lines have become blurred.

To be an effective advocate for ourselves and our children, we need to maintain professionalism at all times. This is true both in writing and in person.

Social media has made it the norm to tell everybody everything. The problem is that people are forgetting where they are (not among friends) and whom they’re talking to (bosses, case managers, colleagues and the public, not their buddies). And even if they know it’s inappropriate to share certain personal information in a professional setting, they do it anyway because everyone else does. So they think it must be O.K. (it’s not), and they think that their boss, colleagues, members of their child's "team"... are really interested (they’re not).

6. How To Ask for Help
If what you're asking for is support or help. Be very concrete and clear about your needs.

Don't use emotionally-charged wording
("I want," "falling apart," "failing," "struggling," "please help"...).


Focus on what you want them to provide (weekly in-home therapy, respite, residential treatment...). Talk about the immediate benefits to the child and the risks if you or your child don't receive these treatments. Be specific.

7. Headlines
Let's face it, headlines are important (Titles/ Email Subject Lines/ Document Headings). It doesn’t matter what you’ve written if people read the first sentence or two and then mosey on to something else because the words just didn’t catch their attention or they don't think it applies to them. 

Obviously, what’s written after the headline matters too. Your headline should actually reflect what's in the document.  4 Ways To Hook Readers With Headlines. I often go back and write the headline/ title/ after I've written the whole document.

8. Lists/ Bullet Points.
A person is more likely to read a document if they can scan it quickly and know the:
  • Action Points - allows the reader to quickly see what they need to do
  • Succinct Summary - quickly summarizes and organizes your reading points, 
  • Relevance - allows the reader to decide whether or not the information is relevant to him/ her, 
  • Is it Worth Reading More? - helps the reader decide if he/she should give you more than a few seconds of his/ her time. 
  • Reminder - so you can tell at a glance what tasks or info you need

The easier the document is to read, the more likely someone will do so!

9.  Check for Spelling and Grammar mistakes

Not only are they distracting to the reader, but they make you sound uneducated and therefore damage your credibility.


Refine. Tweak. Tweak some more. Have someone else read it. 

{An example of how NOT to write a letter. I Finally Hit Send
Better, but still not effective. Revised Letter.
Actually sent version. What Bear Has Learned This Year}

When you're requesting services, accommodations, and changes -
  • Put it in writing! 
  • Stay calm and unemotional - this is not the place to editorialize. 
  • Stick to the basic facts. - Explanations and "backstory" can be discussed later. This is more like a police report - just the facts and nothing but the facts.
  • Know your child's rights and what they're entitled to (Get familiar with Wright's Law and IDEA).
  • State your expectations simply and plainly.
  • Give deadlines and consequences.  

Be Aware - Example
A school agreed to give a child an assessment to see if he qualified for additional services. The parent did not like one of the tools they were using to assess her child (an IQ test), because she felt it would not be accurate (the child had refused to participate in this type of testing before which skewed his score significantly). The parent informed the school she did not wish for them to use that particular assessment and revoked permission for that one test. The school documented this as the parent revoking permission for the entire assessment! Definitely not what the parent wanted! 

Things to know about IEPs
You can always refuse to sign/ give permission. 
You can also revoke permissions previously granted. 
You have the right to demand FAPE services for your child.

If the school can't or won't provide a service (assessment, a one on one assistant, having a less/ more restrictive environment...), then you have a right to demand they pay for the service to be provided by an independent professional of your choosing. Unfortunately, you might need a Special Education or Attorney to back you up on this (it's often difficult to get money out of school districts!).

To learn more about how you can get your child services in School CLICK HERE!

Ten Timeless Persuasive Writing Techniques 
Persuasion is generally an exercise in creating a win-win situation. You present a case that others find beneficial to agree with. You make them an offer they can’t refuse, but not in the manipulative Godfather sense.
It’s simply a good deal or a position that makes sense to that particular person.
But there are techniques that can make your job easier and your case more compelling. While this list is in no way comprehensive, these 10 strategies are used quite a bit because they work.
  1. Repetition
    Talk to anyone well versed in learning psychology, and they’ll tell you repetition is crucial. It’s also critical in persuasive writing, since a person can’t agree with you if they don’t truly get what you’re saying. Of course, there’s good repetition and bad. To stay on the good side, make your point in several different ways, such as directly, using an example, in a story, via a quote from a famous person, and once more in your summary.
  2. Reasons Why
    Remember the power of the word because. Psychological studies have shown that people are more likely to comply with a request if you simply give them a reason why… even if that reason makes no sense. The strategy itself does make sense if you think about it. We don’t like to be told things or asked to take action without a reasonable explanation. When you need people to be receptive to your line of thinking, always give reasons why.
  3. Consistency
    It’s been called the “hobgoblin of little minds,” but consistency in our thoughts and actions is a valued social trait. We don’t want to appear inconsistent, since, whether fair or not, that characteristic is associated with instability and flightiness, while consistency is associated with integrity and rational behavior. Use this in your writing by getting the reader to agree with something up front that most people would have a hard time disagreeing with. Then rigorously make your case, with plenty of supporting evidence, all while relating your ultimate point back to the opening scenario that’s already been accepted.
  4. Social Proof
    Looking for guidance from others as to what to do and what to accept is one of the most powerful psychological forces in our lives. It can determine whether we deliver aid to a person in need, and it can determine whether we muster the courage to kill ourselves. Obvious examples of social proof can be found in testimonials and outside referrals, and it’s the driving force behind social media. But you can also casually integrate elements of social proof in your writing, ranging from skillful alignment with outside authorities to blatant name dropping.
  5. Comparisons
    Metaphors, similes and analogies are the persuasive writer’s best friends. When you can relate your scenario to something that the reader already accepts as true, you’re well on your way to convincing someone to see things your way. But comparisons work in other ways too. Sometimes you can be more persuasive by comparing apples to oranges (to use a tired but effective metaphor). Don’t compare the price of your home study course to the price of a similar course—compare it to the price of a live seminar or your hourly consulting rate.
  6. Agitate and Solve
    This is a persuasion theme that works as an overall approach to making your case. First, you identify the problem and qualify your audience. Then you agitate the reader’s pain before offering your solution as the answer that will make it all better. The agitation phase is not about being sadistic; it’s about empathy. You want the reader to know unequivocally that you understand his problem because you’ve dealt with it and/or are experienced at eliminating it. The credibility of your solution goes way up if you demonstrate that you truly feel the prospect’s pain.
  7. Prognosticate
    Another persuasion theme involves providing your readers with a glimpse into the future. If you can convincingly present an extrapolation of current events into likely future outcomes, you may as well have a license to print money. This entire strategy is built on credibility. If you have no idea what you’re talking about, you’ll end up looking foolish. But if you can back up your claims with your credentials or your obvious grasp of the subject matter, this is an extremely persuasive technique.
  8. Go Tribal
    Despite our attempts to be sophisticated, evolved beings, we humans are exclusionary by nature. Give someone a chance to be a part of a group that they want to be in—whether that be wealthy, or hip, or green, or even contrarian—and they’ll hop on board whatever train you’re driving. This is the technique used in the greatest sales letter ever written. Find out what group people want to be in, and offer them an invitation to join while seemingly excluding others.
  9. Address Objections
    If you present your case and someone is left thinking “yeah, but…”, well, you’ve lost. This is why direct marketers use long copy—it’s not that they want you to read it all, it’s that they want you to read enough until you buy. Addressing all the potential objections of at least the majority of your readers can be tough, but if you really know your subject the arguments against you should be fairly obvious. If you think there are no reasonable objections to your position, you’re in for a shock if you have comments enabled.
  10. Storytelling
    Storytelling is really a catch-all technique—you can and should use it in combination with any and all of the previous nine strategies. But the reason why storytelling works so well lies at the heart of what persuasion really is. Stories allow people to persuade themselves, and that’s what it’s really all about. You might say that we never convince anyone of anything—we simply help others independently decide that we’re right. Do everything you can to tell better stories, and you’ll find that you are a terribly persuasive person.

Advocating, Some Notes (Tips on Advocating for Your Child)

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