I’ve been on both sides of the table. I’ve been the professional telling you what your child can and cannot do. I’ve reviewed Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and have felt the hurt from parents when they review the results. I have watched parents sit in IEP meetings, crying as professionals discussed their child. My heart has ached for you, and I have cried with you. However, I am now the parent hearing the words that hurt so much. I am now in the shoes that I once witnessed. Even though I have had a lot of sympathy for my student’s parents over the years, it just doesn’t even come close to experiencing the anguish myself.
As a special education teacher, I thought I had a good understanding of special needs in general. I recall sitting in my college courses, learning about all of the mild to severe disabilities, wondering what else I needed to know. I learned more and more each year from my amazing students in my classroom. What I didn’t know at the time was that I actually knew very little. Teaching children with special needs and raising them are two totally different journeys in life. I now have had the pleasure of experiencing both.
If there is anything that I can pass along to all of the special education teachers and therapists, it would be to listen to your parents. They may not have a degree in their child’s disability, but they know more than any professional could ever begin to imagine. You don’t know the level of exhaustion your parents endure daily. You can’t even begin to imagine the heartache they experience daily watching their child struggle in a world that most definitely does not cater to special needs. The loneliness and isolation the parents feel daily is unimaginable. With that said, please be empathetic in your meetings with the parents. It is not easy listening to what you have to say about their child—I know that all too well. Think about their perspective, and have compassion. Each and every child has some spectacular talent. It is your job to find it and make sure you praise that talent to the moon and back with the family. If you can’t do that, you will never know the kind of difference you could be capable of making in the special needs world.
Now, to the parents sitting on the other side of the table: respect your child’s teacher and therapist. Be actively involved in your child’s education and therapy. Work with the professionals, and help them understand your child. No one knows your child better than you, so your involvement is crucial for your child. Ask questions, and do your best to understand everything you can. Most importantly, educate them. They may have a degree in your child’s specialty, but that is just a small step toward understanding and knowing the unique disability that your child has. Be your child’s advocate, educate others, and make them aware.
I know it is not easy sitting on your side of the table. I know. I sit there now, too. I never thought I would find myself on that side of the table when I was teaching. I am here to say the parents’ side of the table is the hardest. If both sides keep an open mind and work with each other, then amazing things can happen for the child in need.
So, thank you to everyone who sits at the table. In the end, we are all in it together in order to better the life of the child with special needs, and that simply can’t be done without both sides.
Angela Conrad is a former special education teacher turned autism mom. She is the mother to two boys who have autism. She is a published author of the book Two Brothers One Journey: The Loving, Courageous Struggles of an Autism Mom. You can follow Angela on social media.
This article was featured in Issue 65 – Back-To-School Transitions