Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Peter Kuriloff


How educators and parents of children with special needs resolve differences at the early stages of a dispute is vital to our understanding of how to avoid an escalation of conflict and irreparable damage to this important relationship. This study examines why some disputes between educators and parents resolved and others are not. Following the cases of nine children whose parents had a difference with the child's educators, I focused specifically on what parents and educators do to try to resolve their differences. I interviewed parents and educators involved in disputes, observed meetings that centered on the differences the parents and educators were having and reviewed related documents. I found that educators who used a therapeutic approach and were highly informative in their work with parents were successful in resolving differences with parents. I also found that when educators apologized and promptly remedied oversights and serious social infractions, parents were appreciative and able to continue a positive relationship with the educators. Educators who failed to adequately address the concerns of parents about their child's development and educational needs and future and who did not discuss alternative instructional approaches invited a pattern of misunderstanding and conflict. The central implication of these findings is that educators need to anticipate and prepare for issues and concerns that are endemic to the practice of early intervention. The capacity of educators to manage differences with parents must extend beyond the traditional approaches to conflict resolution and include an informed approach to the resolution of differences and data driven decisions about educational programs for young children. Further research that examines the competence, role and status of educators and how these factors relate to effective resolution of differences would further our understanding of the complex issues involved in dispute resolution.

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