The High Cost of Low Expectations: Teams That Foster Low-Trust Are Ones To Avoid

Within the disability and mental health sector there are a multitude of support groups and organizations with mandates to “help”.  They are there to create safe environments for parents, for professionals and they often communicate goals that reflect the goals of their membership.  I belong to many of these groups.  As I see it, there is a crisis of identity that keeps these groups from talking to each other and from creating environments that promote genuine growth.

The influence of group identity towards sentiment of negative thinking, suspicion and lack of trust in others is toxic to the disability community.  

Certainly we all want to belong and this is important in a field where belonging is the major push for change.  In other words- we want inclusion and acceptance so we can find the same results for the ones we love who have a disability or mental health issue.  Along this logic does it not come in to question that group membership is often in direct contrast to this goal.  It is exclusive, often derogatory towards other stakeholders and often held in closed or “secret” groups.  How are we hoping to reach inclusion goals when the conversations we are having promote such a dynamic?  Is our belonging at the expense of others?  Does it help us grow or keep us stuck?

The cycle of miscommunication between professionals and families is reinforced by groups that keep the conversation from including BOTH sides of the table. 

I recently sat with an administrator in a school district I am hoping to work with in the area of governance and leadership.  To my stunned disappointment the sentiment was expressed that many issues in the school environment were the result of the mental health (or lack of) of the parents.  I was amazed that this comment would come from someone in authority  who was directly responsible for maintaining lines of communication between the leadership of the district and parents.  I have likewise heard from countless parents who’s belief about the professionals in their child’s life is that they are either out to “get a buck” or have no compassion at all.  I can’t help but think that the identity requirements to remain separate and therefor critical of the other is a huge influence here.

Rather than talking ABOUT each other- parents and professionals should be talking TO one another about the issues they face working WITH each other.

I propose that the conversation is NOT about the policy or handbook or whatever shallow reference that is typically thrown around at this point.  We can’t afford to do that to parents as professionals.  It creates a situation where we are perceived as callous, incapable of thinking beyond the party line and quite frankly it’s insulting to a parent.  On the flip side- professionals who bring this forward in the conversation about why there is tension or low results are doing so because they are generally caring and frustrated people who are trying to do what they can to navigate an ethical dilemma and have no where to turn for clarity.  In 20 years of clinical practice and advocacy I never met someone who was truly morally bankrupt.  Once you dig past the defensiveness you hear stories of wanting to do more and feeling trapped.

So now what?  How do we move beyond this devastating paradigm of low expectations in one another and high expectations for getting what we want (or else)?


  1. What are your perceptions of parents/professionals?  How are those points of view either building trust or destroying it?
  2. What are your expectations of collaboration?  Is this your number one goal or are you trying to “win”?
  3. In meetings do you regularly hear comments that marginalize you and leave you feeling like you don’t belong?
  4. Does your “warrior mother” or “clinical expert” identity get in your way of trusting people at the table?

It may feel like we are miles apart but we are merely two sides of the same coin.  It’s the same story with varying contexts.  The paradox of wanting inclusion to magically appear from our exclusive identities shoots us in the foot and is the number one barrier for high quality IEPs, programming and advocacy in general.


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