Great Expectations

Great Expectations

Great Expectations of Special Education Professionals

Call me naïve or whatever you will, but I am the kind of person who likes to believe people will do the right thing — especially people who work in the special education field. But being a special needs parent and dealing with the New York Board of Education has jaded me a bit.

Just like some doctors lack bedside manner, some special education professionals become desensitized. Children become numbers in a broken system. Services equal dollar signs and budget cuts are always looming. It’s all too easy to believe we’re on opposite sides of the fence.

I am familiar with the law. I know children are entitled to FAPE. But what the Board of Education is supposed to do and what they actually do are two different things. I wish I could say that I haven’t been lied to, disappointed in or discouraged by special education professionals. But I have.

And so when I thought of writing this article, for a few fleeting moments, I wondered: am I expecting too much? So I asked some other special needs parents, and turns out, they had great expectations too.

It’s hard to list these in order of importance because they are all equally vital. I could write entire posts on each expectation. But these are the basics:

Communication. We will ask questions. We will want updates. We will make calls and write notes. (I know, the nerve of us — asking about our kids. Who do we think we are?) We will most likely annoy you at some point with all our questions and needing to know. But most of our children, especially the really young ones, cannot tell us about their day. It doesn’t need to be a daily love letter — just a few sentences to fill in the gaps of his day. And if they did something amazing — tell us. We need to hear the good stuff too.

Enthusiasm. We know it’s a job. There will be days when you will be frustrated, overwhelmed and exhausted. Days when you will feel extremely overworked, unappreciated and grossly underpaid. Each day is a day you could make a difference. Each day is one where you could make someone’s life easier, better, more hopeful than the day before. Your job has the power to change a life. We need you to remember that. We need you to love your job. We need to know that you care about our kids. And when we know that you truly care, we appreciate it.

Honesty. Honesty goes a long way in any relationship. And we need you to be honest. Don’t tell us what the district wants you to say. Look at our children and treat each one individually. Determine what is most appropriate rather than prescribing a predetermined formula of special needs services. Each IEP is supposed to be individualized. If a child needs an extra session of a related service, be honest, even if it’s more than the “usual mandate.” Do the right thing by the child, not what’s easiest or most cost effective for the district.

Patience, Tolerance, Understanding. When meeting our kids for the first time, be patient if they are not quick to respond to your requests. Ask simple questions, wait a few minutes — they need time to answer. Keep an open mind when working with them — you may need to try a few different approaches before you get the response you want. Understand that they sense your frustration and doubt and that it will only discourage them.

And please be patient with us too. Parents are naturally protective of their children, but when you’re a special needs parent — that sense of protection is multiplied by a million (maybe even more).

Respect. Within the autism community there are varying opinions regarding vaccines, diets, and therapies; you as an educator or therapist may have your own opinion. We don’t have to necessarily agree but we need to respect each other. And more importantly — be supportive. Ask us what works and why. Especially when it comes to things that works for our kids. If we believe something works for our kids, chances are it really does. We see the difference. Maybe you don’t see it. That’s fine. But respect the fact that we do.

If you are a special education professional, you may think these requests are too much to ask for or are too obvious. But special needs parents know this isn’t too much. This is exactly how we need to be treated. And you know that our kids need it even more.

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