10 Things Parents of Children with Special Needs Want Teachers to Know

10 Things Parents of Children with Special Needs Want Teachers to Know

I was an early childhood educator for years before I became a mother. My daughter came to me through foster care adoption with a long list of diagnoses and delays. She quickly made me realize how little I understood about families of children with special needs – their parents, in particular. Through years of conversations as both a parent of a child with special needs and as a teacher of at-risk children, I’ve found most of us share several frustrations. Here’s what teachers should know about parents of special needs children.

1. We’re exhausted. 

We’re so tired. All the time. I know teachers are tired. I was teacher-tired before becoming a special needs parent. This is a whole other level. We never get to turn our brains off. Our kids rarely sleep through the night. We’re constantly thinking about how to manage our child’s condition. There are various doctor, psychiatric and therapy appointments – often multiple in a day. Then we still have to go to work and keep up with our households and the rest of our family.

2. We want you to see beyond the special needs. 

There’s more to our child than the wheelchair, behavior management plan, IEP forms, etc. We want you to encourage their interest in skyscrapers, dolphins or Chinese culture. We want you to notice the way they smile when music plays or how they comfort upset classmates. Please talk to us about these things, too, so we know you see our whole child.

10 Things Parents of Children with Special Needs Want Teachers to Know

3. We worry all the time, so please don’t take it personally. 

Even if we feel safe with you, totally confident in your ability to make sure our child is okay while at school, we still worry. What if something unexpected to all of us occurs? What if you have to leave early and there’s a sub? What if all just becomes too much for you?  So many what if’s.

4. We don’t mean to be defensive, we just feel so judged. 

Some days the slightest negative remark or criticism falls on us like a load of bricks. We don’t mean to come across as defensive or unwilling to work with you. We’re just beat down and sometimes we are snippy, breakdown in tears or react in other ways we instantly regret. 

10 Things Parents of Children with Special Needs Want Teachers to Know

5. We’re constantly analyzing. 

We’re always thinking ahead, analyzing every situation and scenario. What triggers or challenges might our child encounter today? How can we prepare them (and you, as their teacher)? 

6. We’re experts on our child.

We’ve read stacks of books and articles on our child’s diagnosis. We might not know the names of any players in the Super Bowl (or even the teams playing), but we can spout off the experts in our child’s condition. We subscribe to medical journals and stay on top of the latest updates in research. If you have any questions, ask us.  That doesn’t mean we don’t want to hear your ideas or info – but we’ve probably already tried it.

10 Things Parents of Children with Special Needs Want Teachers to Know

7. We might be socially awkward.

Many of our friends and family distanced themselves because they couldn’t relate to our lives or our child’s special needs made them uncomfortable. We don’t have energy or time for much socialization. Our lives revolve around the care of our child. So we are out of practice in social situations and might be awkward.

8. Our kids aren’t bad. 

They aren’t brats. They are doing the best they can to navigate the world with a very complicated set of challenges. 

9. We’re really good parents, but we don’t always feel like it. 

This isn’t a discipline issue. It’s a medical issue. None of it is our child’s fault and none of it is our fault. We know this logically, but we sometimes still worry we aren’t doing enough and that we’re bad parents. 

10. We know our child requires a lot of you and we feel guilty. 

That’s why we shower you with cards, coffee, baked goods, classroom supplies and offers to volunteer. 

10 Things Parents of Children with Special Needs Want Teachers to Know

So what can teachers do to support parents of students with special needs? Understand we’re overwhelmed and exhausted. Know we might seem like we’re on the edge of a nervous breakdown, but we’ll never stop fighting for our child. Noticing how hard we advocate for our child is the biggest compliment you can give us. Share positive comments about our child, not just challenges. Don’t give up on our child. Understand that we’re all doing our best. We’ll extend the same to you and keep the coffee and muffins coming. 

Also Read:

10 Things Parents of Children with Special Needs Want Teachers to Know

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed. is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She’s been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga.
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