Avoiding Unmatched Expectations
The demise of any relationship is the result of unmatched expectations. The same is true for parent – school relationships.
Too often I talk to parents of children with special needs. They expect a menu plan to be offered to them. It’s really not their fault. After all, our society has conditioned us to look for the “value meal” or the “ultimate experience.” The reality is that in the world of education, there is no “one size fits most” option when it comes to children with special needs.
Believe me when I tell you that if there was a parent to advocate for a “happy meal” option – I would buy 100% of them to secure my son’s success.
I guess that’s just it; parents of children with special needs want to know that there is some menu that is fair and that provides a guarantee that our kids get exactly what they deserve and one that will deliver measurable and guaranteed results.
The reality is that as much as an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) provides a program designed by the team, that roadmap can vary significantly. The drivers of the journey have different backgrounds, strengths and training. As much as I find comfort in this system, as a parent of a special needs child, it can also be quite scary depending on the “roadsters” involved.
So what can you, a parent of a child with special needs, do? Here are a few tips for the start of a new school year or a first meeting with a school team:
1. Give the full report:
Collect reports and updates from all private and school therapists and providers. It takes the emotion out of it and brings just the facts to the table. It can also help prevent duplication of testing.
2. Witness Videos:
The challenge with non-verbal or non-compliant children is getting professionals/ teachers to witness their intelligence. Trust me when I tell you that my son is determined to not show you how smart he is! Time and time again, therapists would say, “Unless I had witnessed it, I would never have believed how smart he is!” I often video tape our son doing everything from laughing (a sign of intelligence) to demonstrating his ability to read, to participating in pretend play or interacting with others. I do it not for the “Kodak moment”, but to arm myself with proof that my child is not a mute and that he is a person with a voice that needs to be unleashed.
3. Make a list – check it twice:
I think one of the best things you can do is to take inventory of your child’s accomplishments. Make a list of all of the developments that have taken place since school let out. Not only is it helpful for staff, but it is also a celebration for your family of the strides you have made. For example; our son went from speaking a word or two to being able to order at McDonald’s. I took a video of him ordering and wolfing down French fries. It was a huge mile stone and a great update for the school team!
4. Visit the school before orientation:
If your child, like mine, has huge sensory issues, take the time to walk the school grounds before the annual orientation. Contact the school to find a time that you and your student can walk the routine. It sounds basic but it helps a lot. I find that I hold my son’s hand and as we walk I almost tap his fist against my hip in a rhythm to give him that input he needs and also to make him feel safe and confident as we review the many places he will visit throughout the day.
Related: Visit & Observing Schools
5. Take extra time with the cafeteria, the bathroom and dress code:
You might just think I am an overbearing “Mama Bear” but let me tell you that this is the stuff that sends parents like me into orbit! The cafeteria is loud and the bathroom can be too. Throw in a unified dress code of tucked in shirts with belts and you may have mutiny before the day ends!
6. The Two Week Break-in Period:
OK, confession time. I am not good with this one. I know parents who run in the first days yelling to “scare the pants” off the team to get their way. As much as I want to cheer on my fellow parents, the reality is that they need give the school team time to get their feet under themselves and develop a routine. Try to be patient during this time…before you ask for an update. If the team is on top of it, they will beat you to it!
7. Develop the Motto – “Change is Good”
As much as I love the fact that many of my son’s teachers, paraprofessionals and support team remain the same, I believe that change is good for him. One administrator observed that when there was a change in staff, “It challenged Wyatt to bring on his game face.” Now you might think this is playful rhetoric but the truth is that it worked. Our son was motivated to please the new person. I think it’s also a teachable moment. Change is a part of our lives. As much as I angst about educating a new teacher about my child’s strengths and weaknesses, I also know that new perspectives may bring fresh ideas. This all back translates into opportunities for my student to excel. Trust me when I tell you that I have not been “sipping the Kool-Aid”. I have learned the hard way that as much as I try to control the outcome, I am less and less in control. I also realize that (by controlling everything) I am not really helping my child to develop independent life skills. I often say, “Academics are important but my destiny for my son is to help him to be successful on his own when I am gone”.
8. Make time to create relationships:
Building trust and communication will bring you great rewards. I know that this sounds like some lead-in for a selfhelp book, however, it’s really true. Find a way to stay in communication with your child’s teacher and the team. Email is great, but sometimes there are legal issues attached to electronic communication. I suggest determining a way that works for the team. We have a compliance sheet that recaps the day. But we also agreed to use a notebook that goes back and forth from home to school. I try to write in it every day. It’s not always long but it tells the team what is going on at home. It can also give the “heads up” when our child has not gotten enough sleep or is obsessed with a story or an activity. “Super-sizing” these relationships will bring boundless values for you and your child.
There is no denying it. I dread the first day of school for my son. The fears that run rampant through my mind can be crippling.
How ironic that as I type these last words, my son calls my attention to a TV commercial. In an instant he yells out with gusto: “Mom – joy is a gift and it comes in this box!” “Yes, Wyatt, “I reply, “I’ll take 10 of them!”
- Setting and Achieving High Expectations
- What to Expect When Establishing Expectations
- Expectations: How Far Have We Come and What to Expect for the New School Year
- Do You Set High Expectations for Your Child with Special Needs?
- How to Get Free From Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood
This post originally appeared on our September/October 2011 Magazine