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Monday, March 5, 2018

What Special Needs Parents Want Teachers to Know…

1. Please remember that all children with Autism, Down Syndrome, ADHD, Sensory Issues, Medical Issues, etc… are NOT the same, as no child without these challenges are the same. Just because you know One Child with a Special Need doesn’t mean you know All Children with a Special Need. It simply means you know ONE Child with a Special Need. Kids even with the same condition have different needs. What works for one child may not work for another. You can give it a try, but be willing to come up with 5 more ideas to help that individual child work through an issue or learn a new skill.

2. We are not being over protective, we are concerned about our child’s health and well-being. When we ask questions, we are trying to develop the best, most accurate picture of where our child is now, as opposed to where they were or even where they could be. We are trusting you with our most precious gifts and we want what is best for them. We know you have taught many children, but our children aren't like other children. We need to know how they are doing now so that we can adapt to their needs. If we ask for your help observing our child during their time with you at school, or need more information on a behavior or issue, please do your best to provide us with it in a detailed and timely manner. It helps us to track our child’s progress (or regression) and make appropriate changes to their overall plan (medications, therapies, specialist and other interventions.)

3. You can’t make our children do something (talk, eat, do schoolwork, behave, etc.) just because you want them to. Children with special needs aren’t just being stubborn, they are often unable to do these things independently right now. Your job and ours, is to teach them skills to get them on their way to better behavior or accomplishing a goal. We often get tired of hearing "just make them do it they will do it" or "they will do it on their own time."

4. Try to share something positive that my child did, said or accomplished every so often. As parents of children with special needs, we get bogged down by the negative behaviors, challenges, stares, judgements and all we must do on behalf of our children. Hearing how well they stayed in their seat during an assembly or how they asked nicely for a break, how they were a good friend to another
student or that they ate their lunch for once would mean the world to us. We don’t get these messages enough. While it may seem small or everyday for others, to us these are the moments we long for and hope for.

5. Special needs children can exhibit different behaviors in different environments like between home and school, inside or outside a building, in public or in private, from room to room or space to space. Therefore, the environment should be accommodating to the needs of the child in that moment wherever they are.

6. Just as teachers must pick their battles, SO MUST PARENTS. If a child refuses to take a bath/shower on a particularly challenging day, that doesn’t mean they never get bathed. Same goes for haircuts, nails being cut, wearing new/clean clothes, dressing appropriately for the weather, filling a backpack with toys or self-soothing items, brushing teeth, combing hair, keeping band-aids on boo-boos, and many more things that are sensory related. If you are concerned that this is becoming the norm rather than the exception, just ask the parent. The child may be exhibiting a new phobia or sensory issue you weren’t aware of or didn’t consider. Don't make assumptions or try to take care of it yourself, talk to the parents first. If you have a question, just ask us. That doesn’t mean we necessarily have the answer right away or that we will share all personal and private information with you, but we would rather you asked than you assume or make up an answer based on incorrect information, gossip or little to no facts or proof. We will do our best to be transparent and communicate important information with the appropriate staff members when we are able.

7. Children with special needs may run away. Even when you think everything was ok 2 minutes ago, the need to escape may overcome them within a few seconds. In all likelihood, the need to flee has been brewing for several minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years. They are JUST NOW processing the event or series of sensory overloads that make them feel like they must run away. It is always best to have a plan in place for when, not if, a child will flee. It is important to remain calm but firm. They may not hear you pleading or trying to reason with them because they are in “flight mode” but you should always call for back-up, call authorities and do your best to get a hold of them to stop them from running into the street or getting lost. No parents would ever tell a teacher or staff member they couldn’t put hands on their child to keep them out of harm’s way…

8. Just because our kids may look normal from the outside doesn’t mean they don’t have the special needs or medical complexities we say they do. It is not your place to diagnose or argue with the diagnosis and issues we have worked tirelessly to have diagnosed by doctors and specialists in their fields of medicine and psychiatry. Your input or opinion can be offered, but know that it may not change anything. Remember that many special needs are invisible. Medication and dietary restrictions/specialized diets are the domain of Special Needs parents informed by their doctors, specialists, research and personal/religious views. No teacher, administrator or staff member should intervene, interfere, or judge a parent for making the choices they see best fit to make on behalf of their child. Would you want someone else to determine what medications you should or should not take and when? Would you want someone to tell you what you can or should/should not eat?

9. Some special needs parents are veterans of the IEP/504/Special Needs/Resource process and their child’s (or other children’s’) diagnosis. Listen to them about what works and doesn’t work for their child, what they’ve tried and implemented at home that may carry over into school. Be respectful of their knowledge of policies, procedures, and Special Education Law.

10. Even though our children may have extra needs and special therapies, they need and want interaction and love just like any other child wants and needs it. Being engaging and kind to our child costs you nothing but pays in high dividends for them as they make positive social and emotional connections with teachers and staff members. Speak to our children as if they hear and understand you. If our child has lack of affect or doesn’t answer you in a typical fashion, try modeling those behaviors (even if you feel like you are having a one-sided conversation.) Believe us, they hear and observe EVERYTHING. They know what you are saying to them (or about them) and know if you care about them or not. Find ways to engage our special needs children with typical peers and other staff members throughout their school day. Often, our children are relegated to one or two rooms all day with the same students, teachers and staff. Creatively and purposefully find times or places where our children can mingle with other children not in their classroom, where they can benefit from another caring adult in the building, where they can get a change of scenery or feel more connection to their school building and community.

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