You suspect your child has a disability, or perhaps you’ve just received the diagnosis. Maybe he or she is a little more active than other kids, isn’t hitting the benchmarks the same time as the other kids, or you have discovered in utero you are facing a major difference with your unborn child. You are stressed and worried he or she will be different, will be picked on, will need you until the day you die. The first thing I would say to any parent is…take a breath. It’s going to be fine.
The so-called “normal” child will have strengths and challenges, will put parents through their paces just as much as any child with a “difference.” All children have value, all have a special contribution to make. So many times I have thought, “If only this parent would accept their child has…autism…adhd…..behavior disorder…then we could really get to work.” In those moments, I attempt to share the idea that if we push them through everything they will be up until midnight doing their homework and missing opportunities for socialization. If we tell them they need to keep working on their long-division even when other kids are using calculators, we are setting them up for misery and failure.
You accept it, but you want the school to make sure they’re succeeding, right? You want your child to look normal, just like every other kid. You want them on the honor roll. You want all their homework done. Here’s the thing: all kids miss their homework sometimes. All kids give their parents attitude sometimes. All kids want to learn, they can’t help it. Let it happen. Every kid an area in which they are incredibly talented. Let them be “normal,” be a kid, be a star.
I’ve known students with learning impairment who were so proficient in one area, it would knock your socks off. Listen when your child is evaluated. Read the report. Your child has strengths, let them pursue those interests and strengths, fight for that. The honor roll will come, if that’s what matters to you. In my career, I regret each missed opportunity to work on a student-centered skill for the drive to achieve “normalcy.” I have had countless conversations with parents about what works for their child, and their special talents. Most listen, and it’s an enjoyable part of the work, to know you’ve provided an opportunity for a child to grow and flourish, to relieve the pressure and learn at their pace. For the parents who want their child to be “normal,” to achieve the honor roll, to look just like everyone else, this message is for you. Your child is not like everyone else. Your child is different, and that’s ok.
You have every right to demand the best, to expect all the support and help and educational opportunity entitled to each child. Special educators and service providers will go the extra mile to support your hopes and wishes for your child. We will teach them their basic skills and help them keep up with their same-age peers. We will make sure they have their lunch money and know the new schedule. We will get their special reading book and talk to them about their fears. Not of that is required, and we do it happily. However, this is where I would like to draw the line. The purpose of special education is not to ensure your child makes the honor roll. It is to provide for your child’s unique needs. Children and special educators are successful when parents do one thing: accept the disability, really accept it and your child for who he or she is. That does not mean have a lower standard. Really, the same message could be sent to every parent. Accept your child, support their dreams and fulfill their needs, not yours.
There’s nothing wrong with having ADHD. It’s inconvenient in a school system which demands quiet rigor applied to sitting, completing worksheets and listening to a one-way dialogue. Lots of amazing, famous people have ADHD. Look it up. Autism is challenging, but it’s becoming more prevalent, with more knowledge and services available. You will get help, you will love your child for his or her personality.
We who have known scores of students with differences can tell you we love and value them all. The disability does not matter. Perhaps we came to this conclusion long before we chose to work with special needs, perhaps we’ve learned it over time. Hurrah to the parent who learns it and chooses to accept it. There are plenty more examples of a changing world which requires a changing attitude. Dyslexia, for example, was a serious problem in a world which judged you based your worth on your ability to write polished products unassisted. That world is gone. Education is not keeping up, and you’ll know that when you see kids doing anything you remember doing in school. You were preparing for a world in which each person did not have their phone, contacts, camera, music, books and GPS in their pockets. You could not reach in your pocket and read a review of a car you wanted to buy. A person with dyslexia will be the modern genius in the new visual world, with their visual-spatial abilities and conceptual strengths. Assistive technology, which was cumbersome and inaccessible to the mainstream, is now commonplace thanks to advances in technology. If you are reading this on a computer or smartphone, you have the ability to video conference and use voice recognition software. It’s a new world, allow your child to find his or her unique place in it.
The future is here. It won’t matter if your child is able to sit quietly in his bedroom and answer 7 questions on lined-paper using complete sentences. It will matter if he is able to work in a group, picture a solution and use technology. If your child enjoys drawing and isn’t a great speller, that’s ok. The world is looking for artists, it has a spell-checker and it’s not afraid to use it.