5 Things I Had To Learn To Overcome As A Parent W/ Special Needs Child
When my son was officially diagnosed and labeled as a child with special needs, it was a learning process for all of us. Though I have been an educator for many years now and am a graduate of an Ivy League University, I still had much to learn. I wasn’t trained to deal with a child with special needs because I didn’t take courses on special education and accommodations. I learned as I went along and through simple observation and an open mind. I had to overcome a lot initially and I find myself still working hard but I believe everything is worth a fight!
Here are ways that I am overcoming prejudices and biases while learning about my child and his diagnosis:
Proper Placement — My child cannot attend just any old school. He needs an academic institution that will cater to his needs and provide what is mandated in his IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Not every school can provide required accommodations so I must find the school that is able to deliver what he needs. Whether it be Speech Therapy services, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy to address sensory needs, or even a smaller setting, that IEP must be followed very carefully because it is a legal document. You must advocate for your child and demand what he needs and what he’s entitled to and make sure the school you choose can provide it all.
Family— It’s NOT easy when your family just DOESN’T get it. In the Latino culture (from my own experience), we often think that a child with special needs is being mischievous or just not following directions because it’s a “boy” thing. In reality, we know that they are struggling due to their special needs and they need help. You have to be very strong-willed when it comes to getting family on board with both a diagnosis and necessary accommodations. I remember my husband NOT wanting to accept our son’s diagnosis initially. It became really bad, to the point of us arguing about it a lot. I had dreadful moments of seeing divorce in my future because of it. Finally, he had to make a choice. He could either allow me to do what I needed to do as an educator and a mother or make other decisions I simply couldn’t go along with. I would NOT back down and I was adamant about getting our son what he needed. Obviously, my husband is happy I stuck to my guns and we moved forward to get support for our son together.
Overcoming Ignorance— Many people don’t educate themselves on the various diagnoses and what special needs might mean. Some want to pass judgement on others without knowing what that child is really going through. Others see a kid staring at them and they take it out of context, thinking he’s being inappropriate. This isn’t always the case, especially for kids with high functioning Autism. A child might stare because they are intrigued or “studying” other humans, but many see staring and think the child is being inappropriate or perverted. It saddens me that, even in the year 2016, people are still NOT educating themselves further to become more aware of Autism Spectrum Disorder that is estimated to exist in 1 in every 50 American children.
The school system—- NOT every school system and teacher are equipped to work with our children with special needs. Some general education teachers are not well versed in certain diagnoses nor are they supported by their administration with appropriate tools and resources. I know I wasn’t and, as a result, I had a lot to learn on my own. More support systems need to be put in place for teachers so they can better understand our children. If the schools were better equipped with teachers who are receiving high quality, well-researched staff development, there would be less labeling and struggle in the classroom and more teaching to each child’s individual learning style, special needs or not!
My child is DIFFERENT and it’s okay! I had to sit back and see that yes, he isn’t like everyone else, but are any of us all the same? The world would be pretty damn boring if we were. I am so happy that being different in 2016 is becoming accepted more. People are dressing differently, marriages can legally be same sex now and many are realizing that children are different. Kids simply don’t play the same and they certainly don’t learn the same. At the end of the day… it’s all okay!
Eileen is a New York City Public School teacher in Brooklyn by day and a freelance writer, Community Manager to Mamiverse, wife, and mother of two boys by night. A contributor for Latina Bloggers Connect and heavily involved in social media. Eileen is the founder of mommyteaches.com, where she shares her love of blogging about her pride in teaching, parenting, and the blessings and trials that life have to offer. A circle of Moms Top 25 Teacher Mom, nominated for Best Latin@ Education Blogger, Hispano Blogger Award and The Socia Revolucion SXSWi 2013 award. She graduated from NYU with honors with a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. A children’s book collector from a young age, Eileen loves cooking all types of food, reading and being arts & crafty with her boys. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY from a Puerto Rican mother and an American father. Eileen is married to her high school sweetheart for 10 years.
Follow Eileen on Twitter @EileenCCampos and @MommyT3aches.com