5 Things I Wish Educators Would Stop Saying to Special Needs Parents | The Mighty

5 Things I Wish Educators Would Stop Saying to Special Needs Parents | The Mighty

Over the past couple of years as a parent advocate, and as a parent
of a child who has autism, I’ve attended a number of board meetings,
district meetings and school meetings with parents. Heck, I even ran for
school board trustee.

So I know that trying to make change in the education system feels
like searching for a needle in a football field-sized haystack. Parents
can be demoralized, and many feel forced out of a system that is
supposed to be inclusive of all children. In the last couple of
months, I’ve felt particularly defeated. Meeting after meeting, I hear
the same things, and it’s incredibly frustrating.

Here are a few things I’ve heard at school meetings so many times,
they’ve become like nails on a chalkboard. If you are a school
professional (at any level), my hope is that you will consider these
things when you communicate with parents of children with extra needs in
the future.

1. “ALL students benefit from x intervention.”

There’s a difference between something being beneficial and something
being a necessity. While a typical child may certainly do better with,
let’s say, a visual schedule, a visual schedule might make or break the
day for a child with special needs. This type of language diminishes the
importance of specific strategies needed for our children.

2. “Lots of kids have trouble with x.”

This is only partially true. I also have a typically developing
daughter, and yes, there are things she has trouble with. However, it’s
not the same. Unlike my son, she does not have a lifelong disability
that will constantly challenge her. Imagine telling someone with cancer
that “lots of people feel sick.” That would be incredibly unsympathetic.
Please don’t tell a special needs parent that their child’s challenges
are just like every other child’s. They’re not.

3. “It is unrealistic to expect daily communication. Parents need to let go.”

Many typical children are fully capable of telling their parents what
went on at school. They can communicate their feelings about the day,
who they played with or anything special that happened. Many children
with extra needs cannot. Daily communication is instrumental to ensuring
problems don’t escalate, friendships are fostered, learning is
reinforced — the list goes on. Without daily communication, parents of
children with extra needs are left completely in the dark.

4. “Your advocacy is admirable, but you attract more flies with honey.”

Let’s get this straight: Most of us start with polite requests. Then
we quickly realize we don’t need to make more friends or be popular.
What we need are supports and services accessible to our children so
they can reach their personal potential. In my own experience, I’ve
tried many different ways to advocate, from being nice and sweet to firm
and assertive. I’ve spoken using facts and I’ve spoken from my heart.
It doesn’t really matter. When I look at the history of parents
advocating for the needs of their children with disabilities, the sweet
ones don’t pave the way for change.

5. “We have other children we are responsible for as well.”

I can’t help but laugh at this comment. Surprisingly, we know that
our children are not the center of the universe. It might also surprise
you to know that we would give anything not to spend all our
time worrying about their education. Some parents of children with
disabilities have more than one child. Do you think our children without
disabilities are somehow less important to us? Of course not.

Parents of children with extra needs advocate for their children
years before they have even entered the education system. We’ve been
told, “No,” “We can’t,” “Everything is fine” and my personal favorite,
“We are doing the best we can in a very over-taxed system,” so many
times we’ve lost count. We are overtired, filled with guilt and maybe,
just maybe, we know a thing or two about what might work for our

The greatest educational leaders I’ve met are the ones who’ve said, “What if these parents are right?”


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