August 9, 2021
As I close in on celebrating 33 years working in the field of Special Education I have come to appreciate that there is still so much to learn. We never stop learning and can not know it all.
The first 30 years in the classroom provided a vantage point which allowed me to see students away from the home environment where behaviors (depending upon the child) fluctuated from improving with the change of venue, degenerated or stayed about the same. This close environment was like living in a magnifying device that gave me insights into a child but made me also question the variables that factored into this flux. I had the chance to see potential that, perhaps, was not being displayed and recognized at home. I also saw the other side where growth was minimal and the potential uncertain. I grew to appreciate this privilege but I was unable to relate to what was happening in the home beyond what I was told.
The last three years “on the road,” going from home to home (physically or via Zoom), serving as a provider to a child or consultant to a parent, has revealed insights into your lives that have educated me to the lifetime of “asks” of you; and the daily chain of events that are as knowable as the lottery numbers. My perceptions have changed dramatically and I am often left feeling helpless for not having better answers or strategies to assist you. I accept that and am humbled by the task and driven by the challenge.
As teachers we are very capable of critiquing a parent’s handling of their child (guilty myself). We are human and often, as humans, we react and we judge without knowing all of the information. We are protectors as well as educators, I believe. And in our moments of, hopefully, well-intentioned ignorance, thinking that we know better than the parent, or questioning a parent’s handling of something from the perch of our desk, we do so believing that the letters after our names give us the right.
A major flaw in the system in terms of not having enough teacher/parent time, working together, perpetuates this; not a problem easily remedied because logistics for such a full on partnership make it challenging. But imagine trying to bake a cake where one person has some ingredients and the other has the rest plus the baking pan. It may be possible to find some way to get the cake partially made but the shape will be less than perfect and its potential will certainly not be achieved. Not to say that a child can’t be well educated separately in the home and school, but imagine if all the ingredients made it into that pan. Who might we have helped to realize their best selves?
I have worked with parents of one disabled child and parents of multiple special needs children with varying degrees of ability. I have been blown away by the enormity of this responsibility. I feel for the children but my empathy for the parents has grown exponentially.
I find myself wanting to make their lives better. I see and hear about the daily ups and downs, meltdowns, physical assaults, health emergencies, etc. I see how difficult it is to plan ahead and how often plans need to be altered.
I have always had patience for the kids. That was natural. Patience for adults, when I was younger, was much more challenging and I justified it by believing that adults should know better. Then I had some tough life encounters which increased my compassion for what others go through and I no longer make such brazen assumptions about parents of special needs children. I think you are heros! All of you.
I wanted to write this because I have recently been moved by one mother’s life and now find myself digging deeper to understand even more about how to relate and help. Without going into her story I am inspired to remind all parents to take care of yourselves. Remember some important facts for “survival:”
- There are no shoulds
- There is no manual for raising a child with special needs
- No one knows how to do this job until they do
- Go easy on yourself
- Forgive yourself
- It’s ok to feel helpless and seek help
- Reach out. There is a community for you to lean on
- Laugh as much as you can
- Find space for you
Peace and Keep Rising!