I am pleased to feature this guest post from Luann Fabietti. Luann got in touch with me after reading “I am ‘that’ Parent” back in November and shared her story with me.
Luann is both a special education teacher in a pre- school in New York and a parent of a child with special needs. Her article and passion for the advocacy of children with special needs comes from her personal experiences with her own child and from working with other families of the children she teaches. She holds a Master’s degree in both Mathematics and Infant /Childhood Therapeutic Education.
Author: Luann Fabietti
I am a parent of a special needs child. Once again as the school year approaches I find that it is not only my child who is anxious about going back to school but I too am anxious about sending him there. It is not my child’s disability in this instance that causes me anxiety but rather it is the uncertainty of knowing whether or not my child’s teachers truly understand just how important their role is in the education and emotional development of my child. These feelings are mainly manifested from some of the experiences I have encountered throughout my child’s education throughout the years.
As I am sure everyone would agree these children face so many challenges as a result of their disability. When coming to school, many of these challenges may seem more difficult for them as they leave the “safe world” of their homes where they are understood and accepted and where the adults in their lives provide them with the emotional support they so desperately need. As a result, I cannot emphasize enough on how much these children rely on the teacher to fill that role in school. I understand that such a task is not an easy one but it is one that needs to be accomplished in order for these children to succeed. Classroom teachers need to embrace a willingness to be more flexible in their teaching techniques and expectations even if it means having to make modifications to the classroom environment, make adjustment to their teaching strategies or make other accommodations. They must do so even if at times they may appear to be trivial, unnecessary or inconvenient. More teachers need to view my child’s IEP as a tool rather than a burden. It has been put in place to not only help my child but also it is there to help each teacher understand my child. It is not enough to just read an IEP. I am not sure how many truly realize how a lack of understanding can significantly impact my child throughout the school day. It is not just detrimental to a child on the academic level but it can have the same effect on the emotional level as well.
Another critical tool in helping my child to succeed is home school collaboration. Ongoing communication with parents is not to be considered optional. I realized many years ago while struggling myself with all the complexities and emotions surrounding my child, that this was a journey I could not take alone. Each year as my child gets older and older and his world becomes more complex, I have certainly come to recognize that I too would have to depend on others. I want you to know that I am very aware that my child is not the only one teachers are responsible for in the classroom and that there are days when his needs can certainly impact or change the dynamics of a class. That is why I want to be involved… so that I can help. There is nothing more disheartening for a parent of a child with special needs then to feel as if their child’s teacher views such collaboration as a threat, to be met with defensiveness or to have their concerns trivialized. It certainly would be unrealistic for me or any other parent of a child with special needs to expect each teacher to have the resources to know everything about their child or his disability; therefore, I would hope that there would be more of a willingness for teachers to maintain an open dialogue with parents who know the needs of their child best.
So as the school year approaches I would ask that perhaps when administrators are addressing their teachers about the upcoming school year that they would take a moment to share what I know many parents of children with special needs want their child’s teachers to know. I am hopeful that my words will perhaps raise awareness and help us all to work collaboratively!
To All the Teachers of My Special Needs Child:
There are a few things that I would like to ask as we begin a new school year.
First and foremost… when you see my child’s name on your roster, please do not be disheartened. Keep an open mind and accept the challenge. Know that he does recognize and understand the awkwardness that you or his classmates feel. My child may have special needs but that does not make him void of feelings.
Please understand that my child’s disorder has a medical diagnosis, is biological and is a real illness. Just because my child’s disability may not be “visible”, that does not mean it does not exist. It is not the child’s deliberate attempt each day to cause you more stress. The child sometimes really can’t help it. Don’t take things personally. Just because my child has a disability, do not assume that he is unintelligent and cannot learn.
This is a new school year. I ask that you please treat it as such. Do not begin this year by judging my child on the opinion and experiences of your colleagues. If you have no expectations for my child from the start, how then will you be able to motivate my child to learn and grow during the school year?
Please be very mindful of where you discuss my child and the words you use to do it. You never know who else is listening. Things get back to my child. It can be hurtful.
My child has an IEP, PLEASE READ IT! The IEP is a legally binding document. It is your responsibility as my child’s teacher to not only read it but to understand and implement it every day. The accommodations on my child’s IEP are not there to inconvenience you or cause you to have to do more work. It has been developed and put in place to provide you with information about my child and his disability. If there is something you don’t understand…. PLEASE ASK FOR HELP! Isn’t that what you ask of your students? Be proactive. The IEP must be consistently followed in order to help support my child.
Have a sense of humor about things. There is a lot of truth in the old cliché “that laughter sometimes is the best medicine.”
Please know that home-school collaboration benefits everyone. I ask that you do not become defensive or feel threatened by my calls, e-mails or suggestions. The questions I ask are necessary to maintain consistency and will help me to reinforce what is being done in the classroom. I truly recognize that your responsibilities are great and that you have many goals to accomplish in your classroom each day. I understand that it is not only my child who has needs and is demanding of your attention. I know there are times when it can be hectic and stressful. Please understand that in my suggestions I am not telling you how to run your classroom but rather trust in the fact that I know my child best and all I want to do is help you to help him to succeed. I have spent countless hours and many sleepless nights trying to learn about my child’s disability and research ways to assist my child. I would consider myself to be negligent as a parent if I did not share this knowledge with those working with my child. As parents we are the ones who are left to bear witness to the emotional damage that is sometimes done to our child as a result of the consequences that occur from the breakdown in this communication.
Please communicate with each other. Just as it is important for there to be collaboration between a teacher and a parent, it is also essential for it to exist amongst his teachers as well. Consistency in my child’s program is critical for him to truly be successful. I ask that you take the time to share ideas, thoughts and concerns about my child. It is important for all those working with my child to be on the “same page”. It is quite difficult for any child to establish routines. Just imagine how much more difficult it is for a child with challenges if adults are sending out mixed messages.
I ask that when my child succeeds or does something positive, take a minute to let me know. You will never appreciate the significance of such an act unless you have witnessed the joy on the face of a child who has come to know that the only calls or e-mails from school are those with a negative agenda. Build on the positive. Trust me it will go a long way. All children want to be successful and parents all yearn to take pride in the accomplishments of their child. I speak from my heart when I say that neither my child nor I are exceptions.
Please don’t make me feel as if I need to apologize for my child or pass judgment on me for parenting my child the way I do. Please don’t be dismissive of my concerns or questions. It is not until any of us have walked in another’s shoes that we can attempt to understand the complexity of their challenges and the full impact these challenges have in motivating their actions. It is my responsibility as a parent to advocate for my child. Please know that I too do not have all the answers. As with all children as they move through different phases of their lives adjustments have to be made. With my child these adjustments can be more complicated. My responsibilities are greater for this child. Have patience with me too. I am scared.
Lastly…please know that I recognize that there are so many understanding and patient teachers who have helped my child make the gains that he has made throughout the years. There are no words to express my gratitude to those who have set an example by insisting upon acceptance and inclusion within their classroom. I hope that you truly know that through your compassion you have changed my child’s life for the better.
I wish everyone a successful school year.
Written by LuAnn Fabietti
Both a parent of a child with special needs and a Special Education Teacher