Perhaps you are old enough to remember Lieutenant Columbo (played by Peter Falk) in the famed TV show from the 1970s.  I use Columbo as a model to help frustrated parents in terms of their style of communication.  I call it, “Going Columbo.”

Here’s how “Going Columbo” works.

When parents are in special education meetings they have lots of questions and concerns about what they are being told. Yet, they often feel frustrated and ill-equipped to challenge or raise questions.  A common experience is that the parents start to feel their blood pressure rising and may be come across as too confrontational or adversarial. Communication breaks down.

An alternative to such a confrontational style is to scratch one’s head a lot and look quite confused. That is, Go Columbo.

For example, a parent might say something like, “I know everything’s been explained to me but I find myself getting confused (while scratching head a lot).”   “Like I know you’re telling me that the child is average, but it says here that it his vocabulary score’s in the 16th percentile. Does that matter?” (Squint and tilt head while asking to make sure you’re coming across as quite perplexed.) “I know it doesn’t sound very good, but I may not get it… help me out… Wouldn’t that vocabulary score affect something like comprehension?” (Keep scratching your head looking more and more perplexed.)

As the meeting continues, you may need to go full-blown Columbo by using one of his famous lines –  “And wait, there’s just one more thing…”

So, the next time you are getting ready for an IEP or 504 meeting, instead of going full-frontal, practice Going Columbo in front of the mirror. Say very little and scratch your head a whole lot. You’d be surprised how effective such a communication approach can be. Ask the school to help you out of your confusion and use the phrase, “Just one more thing, I’m confused…” as often as you need.

Get very perplexed and very confused.

(If you need a refresher, I’m sure you can find some clips of Columbo on YouTube.)

Adapted from, “School Struggles,” (Sentient Publications, 2012)