This Mother’s Day I thought I’d direct my attention to moms who have students with special needs, and ask, “How could public schools do a better job of helping them out?” Of course this relates to dads too, but usually moms are more on the front line and it is their day!
Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants to cut special education in public schools, like politicians have wanted to end these services for years. What if, instead, he said, “Hey moms, especially you tired moms who struggle every day to help your child learn, who fight for assistance and are scared of what the future holds for your student, how can your public schools help you?”
I have gathered information from previous comments, the research, and moms. This is the list I compiled. Here are some problems and possible solutions.
Support Groups. Suzanne Perry has several lovely blogs and she wrote “6 Secrets Special Needs Moms Know but Won’t Tell You.” Loneliness heads the list. So wouldn’t it be nice when Mom registers her child with special needs in school, that she be immediately linked to a support group? Schools should maintain and be ready to share the best up-to-date information concerning community assistance and disability foundations and associations.
PTA. Along with this, the PTA also has ideas for support, including pairing parents of students with special needs. Social media and networking online is nice, but there is nothing like meeting over coffee or lunch, or allowing parents to pitch-hit for each other so they can have a night out.
Speakers. The PTA and the school, or school district, should bring in speakers to address the needs of students with disabilities. This brings awareness to other parents and students. It also brings parents and students together.
School Office. A school should be welcoming to parents with students who have disabilities and it starts in the front office.
Showcase Student Work. Many students with disabilities thrive in the arts. Any way a school can showcase a student’s work when they struggle with a disability should be a top objective in the school.
School Ambience. Do the hallways seem safe and clean? Are they reasonably monitored and do students look content? What are the restrooms like? Is there a playground and does it look safe and well-maintained? Are there programs or incentives to have peer acceptance programs? These variables are important to all parents, but especially those with students who have special needs.
Needs Assessment. Parents might appreciate a needs assessment. I’m not talking about nosy data collection, but sincere questions to find out what parents would like from the school. Principals, teachers and guidance counselors should use this information to assist parents.
Task Force. Creating a school task force to seek ways to include students with disabilities and their parents in school functions might be helpful.
Discipline. Principals and teachers should watch for disturbances—how students interact and how they intermingle socially. They should be on the lookout for bullying—always troubleshooting before problems become a crisis.
Preparation. The last thing a mom wants is to have a principal stare at her blankly as she describes her child’s needs. School administrators, counselors, media specialists, and regular education teachers should all be required to take some overall special education coursework in order to receive certification. They should learn about a variety of disabilities.
Specialists. Every school and school district should have specialists. The district should have enough special education teachers and school psychologists for identification and referrals so there are no long waits to get IEPs or into special education programs.
Tutors. Tutoring services get expensive outside of school. Instead, public schools should collect lists of high school students looking for service activities who would be good tutors.
Note. Some parents complain that gifted students are used to tutor students during the school day to give them something to do and boost test scores. Students should not be used. Student tutoring should be thought out carefully and parents should provide permission.
Others might also want to volunteer to tutor. Some PTA parents might enjoy this. When I was teaching middle school, local businesses in the community sent employees to tutor at my school under the teacher’s directive. This was one time business helped teachers in a positive way.
Testing. Testing should provide the parent and student results that will help children with disabilities. But many parents find today’s tests are not designed to facilitate learning. If that’s the case, don’t blame parents of special needs students for opting out of the tests.
The School Set-Up
Inclusion. Class sizes should be small, and the regular education teacher should have some understanding of the kind of disabilities found in their classroom. They should also have the support of a special education teacher who visits the classroom and works in a non-obtrusive way to lend support. Sometimes the student can visit with a resource teacher on a weekly basis in order for monitoring to take place.
Resource Classes. A class offering small group instruction should be available to students with disabilities for 1 – 2 hours each day with the goal of increasing total time in the regular class. This would include working with students with reading disabilities, including dyslexia. This also includes support like speech therapy.
Self-Contained Classes. Some parents want their students to learn life skills and this should be an option within the school. These classes should be well-thought out, challenging, and students should transition to other classes like the arts and P.E. whenever possible.
Some students with autism might also benefit with a class that uses behavioral techniques. Students should transition to other classes according to what parents and teachers work out in the IEP. Parents should be participants in decision-making and kept up-to-date on student progress.
Recess. Every school should include several recess breaks every day where students are free to play. Recess can provide important interactions for students with disabilities with their peers. But it can be problematic too. Recess deserves careful study by the staff. Teachers should monitor recess from the sidelines, intervening when necessary and watching for unobtrusive ways to bring students together on the playground.
Technology. A lot of emphasis is placed on assistive technology for students with disabilities. There are many options and it should be the responsibility of the technology specialist at a school to figure out and choose the best programs.
The Future. Even in elementary school (or earlier), parents with children who have disabilities worry about the future. They might worry what will happen to their child if something happens to them. The school should be a place where parents can openly express their concerns to the school counselor, or special education teacher, and find reassurance and a plan. Parents should receive a report about what future schooling will look like. What programs will be available in high school to provide the student with employability skills and/or the necessary coursework for college?
As always, feel free to include something more. This list is certainly not perfect or all inclusive of the kind of support moms of students with special needs deserve or might benefit from.
Addressing the needs of moms and the education of children will help children thrive in school and with learning. A good public school will work in tandem with moms. They will be partners and will help each other in innovative ways to assist students with disabilities.
Happy Mother’s Day!