Department of Conflict Resolution Studies Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Conflict Resolution Studies

First Advisor

Ismael Muvingi

Second Advisor

Robin Cooper

Third Advisor

Eli Stav


advocacy, conflict, invisible disability, Kawa Model, special education, qualitative case study


In the United States, children with disabilities receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which provides free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Evidence shows that parents of children who receive special education (SPED) experience conflict within the school system. Invisible disabilities (NVD) are unseen but affect learning or behavior in school, include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities, are eligible for special education. There is evidence that parents of children with NVD experience conflict while accessing the system and receiving services and mothers are often the primary advocate for SPED services for their child. What is not fully understood is how NVD influences the conflict process and influences the experiences for mothers. This study explored the experience of mothers of children with NVD who experienced conflict in the special education system using a qualitative case study methodology. Interviews and Kawa River Model drawings of the conflict experiences provided insight into the conflict experience, using Deutsch’s model of conflict as the primary theoretical framework. The findings included the following themes: Square Peg in a Round Hole, Bear the Brunt, Adding Insult to Injury, Game Changer, and Sea Change. Key findings include NVD-related conflicts involve identification and eligibility, the conflict experiences evolve from intrapersonal, interpersonal, and structural level conflicts, which influence their advocacy, and the paradoxical experience of being both a professional in the workplace and a mother advocating for her child in special education, and how that influences conflict.