I realize you are busy getting ready for the upcoming school year. I know you are spending MANY unpaid hours unpacking and organizing your classroom with little help. I know you are spending your OWN hard earned money buying school supplies and enduring sleepless nights preparing lesson plans and schedules. As a parent, I see and appreciate all that you do and the extra challenges you face while just trying to do the job you dreamed of having.
I understand that sometimes it may feel like a thankless job and at times you may feel stressed and frustrated beyond words, yet you mask it with a smile because so many people are watching and counting on you. I know that when it comes to dealing with administration and co workers you feel your ideas and opinions may fall on deaf ears and I understand how invisible that must make you feel. I relate all to well on how frustrating it is to feel like you have lost your voice. Your struggles and plight simply to be the best educator you can be does not go unnoticed by everybody, especially parents like me.
No, I am not a teacher, a paraprofessional, an aide, secretary, or even a student. I’m not even a janitor, lunch lady, or librarian. Nor, do I even carry a degree with any teaching background or credentials. In fact, when it comes to how the inner workings of a school are maintained, my knowledge of it stems from reruns of “Saved by the Bell.” So how could just a regular parent like myself relate to YOUR feelings? How could I have any clue about the daily struggles YOU face? The answer is this....
I am NOT just a regular parent. I am the proud parent of a SPECIAL NEEDS child and now it’s time for you to see and hear ME.
Unless you are the parent of a child with special needs, are a special education teacher, have taken special education courses (which most general education teachers are not required to take), or have friends and/or family members that you routinely visit that have special needs children then I want you to listen to me. I want you to hear me. I want you to understand me. And I want you to take all of those feelings, anxieties, struggles, sleepless nights, preparation, helplessness, challenges, thanklessness, stress, frustration, and invisibility that you all face at the beginning, the end, and maybe at times during the middle of the school year and I want you to imagine feeling this way every single day! I want you to ball all that up and imagine waking up that way, falling asleep that way, waking up in the middle of the night that way and feeling that way especially when your child is at school or out of your sight. Because THAT is how parents of special needs children feel. For us, there isn’t a “summer vacation,” or “spring break” where we can just relax and toss our worries and fears aside until school starts back up again because when it comes to special needs parenting there are NO vacations and our breaks consist of taking five sips of coffee instead of chugging down the entire mug in a single gulp! But it doesn’t have to be this way all the time, and you as a teacher can help. Which is why I have compiled a list (I know how much teachers LOVE lists) of ways we can not only help, but also listen, accept, and respect each other’s feelings and struggles along the way.
3 Simple Ways Teachers Can Help Special Needs Parents
1. DETAILS!! We need DETAILS!! When I ask you how my child’s day was at school (because asking a child with limited verbal skills is like playing a win-less game of charades) please don’t for the love of God, just tell me “good!” Good? What does good mean? Does good mean he actually spoke and interacted with other children? Does good mean he made it the entire day without a meltdown? Does good mean he got glue on his hands and didn’t react as if it were battery acid? Because I can almost guarantee that MY definition of “good” and YOUR definition of “good” are not in the same league or even the same ball park! My child communicating with other children without being prompted to do so, isn’t just “good” it’s absolutely amazing! My child getting his hands dirty while doing arts and crafts without asking to have his hands washed, or just quitting altogether isn’t just “good” its a major accomplishment! My child going 8 full hours without feeling too overwhelmed and letting the effects of a sensory overload get the better of him isn’t just “good” it’s a freakin milestone! Don’t forget that “good” is something non special needs parents take for granted, while “good” to a parent like me means you got front row seats at witnessing a major developmental milestone in my child’s life! And all you have to say about that is “good?” Is that how you would react if you found out your OWN child conquered a life long fear or achieved something they have worked hard at for years? I certainly hope not. I would hope that you would want to celebrate it just like I want to, but I can’t celebrate something I know nothing about! This is WHY I ask! So please just take an extra minute and an extra breath (or two) and elaborate on what made my child’s day so “good” because you (or I) may never know that we mistook something as “good” when in fact, it was miraculous.
“Please trust in me, listen to me, and hear me while I share the knowledge of my child with you because he is MY greatest accomplishment and I promise you that by the end of the school year he will be yours too.”
2. BELIEVE ME!! Please stop looking at me as just another “parent” when I rattle on to you about what my child likes and doesn’t like. Because NEWSFLASH, I am NOT just rattling! Those words coming out of my mouth (sometimes at light speed) shouldn’t ever be confused with the teacher in a Peanuts cartoon and if they do then you need to change the dang channel! I am not just talking to hear my own voice, I am providing you with insight, tips, and very experienced tools of the trade that will not only make my child’s day run smoother, but YOURS too!! Who in their right mind doesn’t want to make their days easier when it comes to children? I know I do, and I have already done the hard work for you! I’ve already learned (the hard way I might add) that if my child’s clothing gets a little bit wet from rain, from food, from paint, or from a water fountain that he will immediately strip them off no matter where he is at or who is around him! I have already learned that when he starts picking at the skin on his lips that, that is a sign that he is feeling overwhelmed and anxious and is on the verge of a meltdown. I have already learned that he has a higher pain tolerance ( which is not an uncommon trait for children with autism to have) than most kids, and if he falls down on the playground and actual tears leave his eyes, that there is a good chance he may have broken a bone because otherwise he can have blood running down his knees and not utter a single word related to pain. These are things I tell you because you NEED to know them! These are things that he DOES! These are ways he behaves! These are signs to look out for! These are things that could eliminate the chances of my child standing naked in the cafeteria or walk around an entire school day with a broken ankle and you should not only listen to me, but believe me! My expertise may not come with college credits, but it comes from experiencing and learning all of these things the hard way so that you don’t have to. You will want to know these things because although “technically” that is MY child you see doing his own miniature rendition of “Magic Mike” in a quiet library full of kids and now screaming little girls, at that moment he is YOUR student and you’re going to wish you hadn’t brushed my words aside, Believe me!
3. ASK! ASK! ASK! Call, text, Facebook message, email, Instagram, tweet, or send a carrier pigeon I don’t care, but please put your ego aside and ask me for help if you need it. Don’t torture yourself or my child for months about something that I may have a solution to, but don’t know about because you are afraid to ask. I know it’s hard to ask for help especially when it involves something you “think” as a teacher you should be able to solve on your own, but if your regular teaching methods aren’t working or you have tried every trick up your sleeve with no avail, then maybe you should give my arms a good frisking because I may be able to help you both! Asking me questions about my child is NOT a sign of weakness it is the sign of a great teacher! I will have more respect for you knowing that my child’s education means more than your bruised ego, I can promise you that. Why make a mountain out of a mole hill if you don’t have to? Just like you, I want my child to learn and to grow while he’s at school and if both of you are able to walk out those doors at the end of the day without tear stricken faces than I call that a win for everybody! Do not wait until both of you are frustrated with each other. Do not wait because your afraid it will make you look like less of a teacher. Do not be the least bit hesitant in reaching out to me in any way shape or form in search of answers because it’s not about WHO can help my child the best, it’s about HOW can we do it together!
Just like you have a degree in teaching, I have a degree in my child. While my degree may not come rolled up in a scroll tied with the ribbon of my schools colors, it’s held together by a bond with my child that I can only trust others will believe. It doesn’t contain a typed out script, it’s wording can only be read aloud if you take the time to listen. The degree I have in my child cannot be placed in a frame and hung on the wall, but it is on display every single day if you just take the time to look. And it wasn’t placed in my hand by a school official, but rather given to me without question by someone much higher up that believed I would cherish it and nurture it beyond measure. So
please trust in me, listen to me, and hear me while I share the knowledge of my child with you because he is MY greatest accomplishment and I promise you that by the end of the school year he will be yours too.
Sincerely, (and loudly)
A special needs parent just trying to be heard