28 Truths Teachers of Kids With Disabilities Should Know This Year
New school years are hard for my children with disabilities but also for me as their mom. I worry about their new teachers. How much experience do they have with kids with disabilities in their classroom? Will they be kind? Will they focus on my child’s limitations or in their potential? Will they have appropriate expectations for my child? Will they love my child?
On the last day of school, both the special education teacher and the regular education teacher walked my daughter, who has Down syndrome, to the car to say goodbye. They were both crying, sad my rascal would no longer be their student. While the school year was not perfect and I wish teachers had higher expectations for my daughter, the one thing I never doubted was their kindness, care and love for my child.
I know my daughter enriched their lives in a powerful way, but will the new teachers be as accepting and loving? Teachers tend to set the tone for the school year, and as parents, we want our children to have successful years.
I will guess I am not the only parent who worries about teachers, so we reached out to our Mighty community and asked the question, “What do you wish teachers understood about your child with a disability? Or if you’re a disabled adult, what do you wish your teachers understood about you growing up?”
Here are their responses:
1. “Yes, I was on an IEP and also happened to be gifted. This seemed hard for some of the IEP team to understand at times. My parents were even told I couldn’t join the gifted program in elementary school because there was no way my braillist could prepare all my work in time, so I didn’t even get the chance to be tested. It took a high school teacher noticing I was getting all my work done for her class super quickly, then sometimes finishing homework for other classes in the work time she gave us, plus generally not being challenged and looking bored, to find an advocate to help me get to the next level. No surprise the same braillist had no problem preparing work for several AP and honors level classes at a time in my last three years of high school. I also had issues with the counselor for the top 100 kids in my class messing up my accommodations for the ACT. Her response was that she didn’t know what she was doing because she doesn’t typically handle accommodations. The problem is that the people who work with gifted students and the IEP team rarely interacted.”
2. “I wanted the same things other kids wanted. A kid shouldn’t be excluded from activities just because they have a disability and need adaptive equipment.”
3. “As an adult looking back, I wish some of the teachers had [asked] me questions. Yes, I was a kid, but a couple of [teachers] felt too uncomfortable to just ask me if I could hear where I was sitting or if I needed more time on a test. They would just move me in front of the whole class or call me out in front of everyone. I just wanted to fit in and the more they tried to ‘help’ without asking the more out of place I felt. I’m about to be 25, and since the age of 8 I have been very vocal about the fact that people who have honest questions are welcome to ask them. I don’t mind and it does not make me uncomfortable at all!”
4. “Just because she isn’t ‘acting out’ at school doesn’t mean she can cope in any social context.”
5. “With [the] medications she is on, what you [see] is her best. Saying she needs to try harder is like telling a straight-A student to try harder.”
6. “As a teacher and a mother of a [son with a disability] I wish teachers and parents would understand that everyone is different and learns at their own speed.”
7. “Although he’s young, he’s endured trauma and needs compassion. Work with me to help him succeed.”
8. I am a teenager with Asperger’s and anxiety attacks that are pretty bad that come here and there. I wish my teachers knew that [although] I am tall, I need to be in the front of the room to focus. Most of the time I am told to sit in the back because of my height (despite them knowing about my IEP).”
9. “[I have] Asperger’s syndrome and selective mutism — I’m not [silent] because I don’t want to [talk] but because I physically can’t. I need constant reassurance, support and time. You can’t rush me because this builds up more anxiety, causing meltdowns and sensory issues.”
10. “I wish my son’s former middle school teachers understood he did not melt down on purpose. My son’s autism was not always obvious to his teachers, and one day he became very emotionally distraught because they accused him of being deliberately difficult. He came home sobbing saying he didn’t want to live. Please be patient and know that just because a child doesn’t have an obvious disability on the outside, [it] doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling on the inside.”
11. “I wasn’t a ‘school skipper’ or ‘cheating the system’ by missing school and doing makeup work. They told me it was unfair to the other kids I had straight As but poor attendance.”
12. “I wish teachers understood what an amazing child I have and take the time to see past his struggles, down to his deep and creative thoughts about different topics. He isn’t a bad kid who doesn’t care and doesn’t want to learn; he is actually a pretty cool young man waiting to click with you and benefit from your guidance and help.”
13. “I had teachers tell me [as] a person with a language impairment and a learning disability that I wasn’t ‘college material!’ Some students will amaze you and go to college and get a Bachelor’s degree and persevere. And they are determined to prove you wrong!”
14. “We’re on the same side, the same team, both wanting similar results, not enemies or hostile adversaries. If all teacher-and-parent interactions started with that as a basic tenet, anything that happened after would be more productive than the norm, as I’ve experienced it.”
15. “I was not having ‘hysterical’ attacks but seizures, and I did not grow out of them.”
16. “I wish you understood my girl’s limited expressive language doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand everything others are saying. She hears when you talk about her instead of to her; she hears when you discuss her low reading and comprehension levels with her aide; When you talk to the other kids about the exciting things they are going to do, then she doesn’t get to do [them]. When kids talk in front of her thinking she doesn’t understand and you don’t correct them; When she has to do coloring or sit with a book while the others are engaged in a discussion. She knows when you pretend to understand her, she gets sad when you don’t take the time to find out what she is trying to say. She stops trying because nobody is listening and nobody realizes that she is.”
17. “My child with Down syndrome is a child first and foremost. When people see her as a disability instead of a little girl and treat her like she isn’t capable of understanding the world around her it is devastating. I want people to erase their low expectations and wonder with me, ‘How far can she go?’ Being optimistic is always the better path with kids with disabilities.”
18. “I would want them to know that while living with a disability may mean we have to face unique challenges inside the classroom, those unique challenges do not mean we aren’t just as capable and able to succeed as every other student they see. While it may take us a tad bit longer to accomplish some tasks, and a few adaptations here and there, we can and will succeed. Please see us for who we are and what we can do, rather than what we may struggle with. Please give us a chance.”
19. “When I draw during class, it’s not because I’m not paying attention. Drawing while listening helps me focus and process the material better. I have an auditory processing disorder and learning disabilities. With the help of art, I became a successful straight-A student in high school.”
20. “My child missed a lot of school due to severe anxiety. During a parent/teacher interview, while complimenting my child for going from ‘barely attending’ to now succeeding in his class, this teacher said to me, ‘And to think that your child was faking being sick to get out of my class.’ Aarrggghhhh. If anything, my child faked being ‘well’ for a very long time. How wonderful it would be if these challenges could be accepted by schools rather than treated with skepticism, disbelief and mistrust.”
21. “I had a school nurse tell me she knew my secret. She said I only came down to her office because I liked her company and just wanted attention. I was made out to be a liar and exaggerator, and my teachers started to refuse my requests to go to the nurse or to be sent home. That title stuck with me until I got diagnosed with three different disabilities at the age of 19. If someone had just listened to me all those years I tried to communicate my pain, then I could have started my road to recovery much sooner and saved myself from self-doubt and irreversible damage to both my self-esteem and body.
22. “He doesn’t perform on command. You do have to build a relationship and trust with him to get him to respond to your requests in a classroom setting. Yes, my child can count, say his ABCs and many other things but will not [do it] just because you randomly ask him to.”
23. “Disabilities come in many forms, some visible, others not. Judgmental attitudes and compassion can not co-exist in an educational setting. Compassion is what is needed for both children and adults with disabilities. That would have helped me far greater, as a student, adult and parent.”
24. “I’m not trying to be horrible. I used to have a lot of meltdowns in the middle of class because of my sensory issues, I would just walk out of class [and] go into the bathroom where I felt safe. Everyone thought I was just an emotional mess. I also used to shut down when they would try to talk to me and they would say I was being a brat, when really it had to do with my autism. I got suspended more than once for not talking to them.”
25. “I wish they had noticed I was in pain. My family called me ‘the whinger’ and ignored my pain, so it would have been nice if a teacher noticed and my arthritis had been diagnosed before the last year of high school.”
26. “My 6-year-old with autism has had to work ridiculously hard just to be in a classroom with other kids and not have constant meltdowns. She goes to school and then spends hours in therapy so she can be successful in that classroom. We, as parents, are not raising a ‘brat’ and we spend many hours outside of a school setting working hard to help her be able to learn and grow in a class with typical peers. Also, even though she looks (and speaks) perfectly fine, it does not mean she does not have autism (and therefore yes, she does need accommodations).”
27. “I wish they understood they [were] role models for my classmates. If the teachers treated me like they didn’t care at all or it was too much work to care about me, why should my classmates act in a different way? Plus, I was just a student like everyone else and they shouldn’t talk to me like I was 5 years old.”
28. “Dear teacher of my gifted daughter with anxiety: I know my kid best! Work with me! We have to be on the same page and give kids consistency. Also, teach her skills outside of a book. She needs to be taught how to manage her feelings. Having said that, her peers need to learn too, teach empathy and compassion.”
What about you? What do you wish teachers understood about your child with a disability? Or if you’re a disabled adult, what do you wish your teachers understood about you growing up? Let us know in the comments.
Thinkstock image by EVAfotografie