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A Letter From a Special Education Teacher Who’s Also a Special Needs Mom

I recently wrote a story for The Mighty: “To the Special Needs Parents Who Worry About Their Kids In School.” I told parents not to worry, that their kids would be well looked after. I promised their educators would help them thrive. I wrote it to ease the anxiety felt by so many parents whose children were starting school soon. I was surprised and horrified as I began receiving comments describing the negative experiences some parents had in regards to their children and schooling.

I am part of a wonderful team of special education teachers who go above and beyond to do what is best for the students we teach. It angered me to hear that not all educators are dedicated to providing a safe, supportive and engaging learning environment for their students. And it saddened me that perhaps I had made some empty promises to some worried parents.

At the time of writing this, it is the beginning of the summer school holidays here in Australia. I should be enjoying time with my children, going to the beach and excitedly preparing for Christmas. But instead, I have spent the past week fighting for my own child with special needs to receive additional support in the school environment. Right at this moment, I’m feeling shattered. Although I know most educators are passionate, dedicated and have adequate knowledge in regards to children with special needs, it is becoming obvious that this is not always the case.

I have heard of children being denied access to education because of their differences. I have seen children being misunderstood because their educator does not have adequate knowledge of their needs. I have read various horror stories in the news recently about the treatment of students with special needs and schools not having the resources for our children to access the curriculum. This is not OK! We need to break down the barriers so that all children have equal access to an education.

To all the educators out there: Please take the time to get to know the children you teach. Do your best to make the learning environment safe, inclusive and supportive for them. Parents don’t expect perfection; they just need to see you are doing your best to make their child’s education enjoyable, achievable and meaningful. Some of the best teachers my son has had have openly admitted they have little knowledge of autism. But they sat in on therapy sessions, did their research and listened to my concerns and suggestions. This meant more to me as a parent than words can describe.

Most importantly, communicate with parents. An open and honest home-school relationship is crucial for many reasons. Take on board any feedback or suggestions given by parents, doctors and therapists. Use it to better yourself as an educator.

To the parents who have children with additional needs: Fight for them! Be their advocate! Know your child’s rights and make sure they are being met. You know your child better than anyone. Make yourself heard. Your child deserves an education as much as any other. Value the educators who strive to give your child the best education possible and advocate for your child when their educator isn’t providing them with an adequate learning environment.

Most of the time your children will be well looked after in the school environment. Most of the time your child’s educators will go above and beyond to help them thrive. But unfortunately there will be instances where this won’t be the case. Hopefully in time, these instances will become fewer and fewer, and all children will receive what they need most from their schooling. Respect. Understanding. Inclusion. Acceptance. Equal access to an education.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share with us an unexpected moment with a teacher, parent or student during your (or your loved one’s) school year. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images