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February 1, 2007
Vol. 64
No. 5

Parents' Voices

We asked parents of a child with special needs what they would tell teachers about what helps—or hinders—their child's learning.

What the Teacher Should Do

Listen to me when I tell you that my child with dysgraphia is not able to copy all information correctly from the board and needs someone to take the time to write the assignment for him.
Listen to me when I ask you to give him note-taking assistance because his writing is illegible.
Listen to me when I ask you to let him use a tape recorder.
Listen to me when I tell you he is intelligent and if you differentiate his assignments, he can learn just as well as any other student.
What the teacher should not do:
Tell me that my child has to write his assignments because the other students write them.
Tell me that my child just wants to get out of doing assignments.
—Lorna J. Lacina, Natchitoches, Louisiana

My Teenaged Son Is Bipolar

I'd like my child's teachers to know that he lacks focus and organizational skills in great part because of his mood dis-order. He lives so much in the moment that it's hard for him to set longer-term goals. He has difficulty getting from one class to the next on time, completing assignments, and remembering to bring books to class. I know this can be frustrating. It's frustrating for me.
Because he's overly sensitive to what's going on around him, my son may be easily distracted in class. He needs extra time on tests and a quiet space in which to take them. He may also need to leave the classroom to see the school counselor in times of stress. And he may have trouble staying focused in class because of his medication. Please, please let me know if he's sleepy in class or if he's not turning in assignments so I can work with him to get these things done.
My child may sometimes say or do things that make him difficult to like. But giving him definite deadlines, clear short instructions, specific short-term goals, and a quiet work space will help alleviate some of this difficult behavior.
Despite these issues, my son is bright, has great analytical skills, is witty, and can write. “I've measured myself against many opponents,” he wrote in a recent essay about boxing, “but the toughest of all is myself.”
—a parent, Virginia

David Has Down Syndrome

David is mildly/moderately mentally retarded, and, as a 7-year-old, he may be functioning at a 3-year-old level in most areas of development. Is this all you need to know to effectively teach David reading, writing, and arithmetic? No!
The labels don't say that David's receptive language is more advanced than his expressive language. David has experienced so much failure in education settings that he doesn't want to try anymore (leading teachers to believe he is less able than he really is). The labels leave out that David learns best by doing—through action and movement, not desk work. When David is not progressing in learning, he needs teachers to step back, give him a week off, and come back to it. He'll surprise you every time.
—Alicia Sigmon, Bowling Green, Virginia

A Missed Opportunity

My 4th grade son recently came home with Frindle, a book he was reading in class. After telling me about it, he added, “But we weren't supposed to bring it home.” Max has been diagnosed with ADHD or, as Ned Hallowell calls ADHD, “an amazing brain with a Ferrari engine and Chevrolet brakes.” Max had begun the book on Friday, got really involved in it, and just couldn't wait until Monday to learn what happened next.
I e-mailed the teacher, just to let her know. Her response was chilly: “I made it clear that the book was to be read in class. Students can't make predictions of what will happen next if they've already read the book!” I tried to explain that he didn't mean to disobey, that his desire to read the book (the Ferrari engine) apparently outweighed his obligation to respect her wishes (the Chevrolet brakes). Could she discuss with Max why she hadn't wanted him to read ahead, just so he would understand? Could he write an alternate ending? This change in strategy would make him responsible for his choices in a productive way and nurture his enthusiasm for reading and learning. Isn't that the goal of education?
The teacher didn't bother to discuss the situation with him on Monday. And she chose not to assign him a different task. All she said was this: “I'mvery disappointed!” What a missed opportunity—for all of us.
—a parent, Virginia

Gifted Students with Learning Needs

I wish that teachers and schools understood that many children with learning disabilities are actually gifted. These children, known as “twice exceptional,” may be quite brilliant, but they have learning differences.
My daughter, who has at least five different learning disabilities, is in a wonderful school that understands how to teach gifted children with learning differences. As result, she is thriving and is able to show her academic gifts while being given accommodations for her learning problems.
These children are often able to perform at remarkably high levels if only the educators will listen to parents and look beyond what the textbooks and tests say.
—Charlene Shelton, Denver, Colorado

Listen to Suggestions

Each year, we tell teachers they must be specific and clear and check for understanding when they tell our eldest son about an assignment or what will be on a test. Each year, at least one teacher just does not get it, despite reminders. One of his teachers told our son one-on-one what to study but left out a lot of information that he assumed our son would realize that he would need to study. This just set our son up for failure, as he did not have the executive functioning skills to know what the teacher left unstated.
Though a psychologist has told his teachers that they should share lecture notes with our son and show models of final products, no teacher ever follows either of these suggestions.
Lawrence M. Katz, Providence, Rhode Island

An Eye-Opening Incident

My son had Attention Deficit Disorder and was slipping away from me and my family. He loved the outdoors, including fishing and hunting. He was an athlete and competed to be the best baseball player with the recreation department. But he had no friends, no invitations, and no life. He hated ADD and told me he prayed at night that it would go away.
One day at the primary school, I picked him up early for a doctor's appointment. It was lunchtime, and his teacher invited me to have lunch with him. As he approached a table with his classmates, I followed.
All of a sudden I heard this loud voice from across the lunchroom. A woman who I later learned was a paraprofessional yelled his name out and said, “You know you don't sit at that table with the other children because you can't leave others alone.” I turned to her and told her how I felt about her bad attitude and rudeness. She instructed us to sit at the silent table. I could not eat, and my son could not talk.
A student sitting across the table from us asked me if I was my son's mother, and I told him yes. He said something to me that will ring in my ears for the rest of my life. He said, “Well, I don't know what he did, but it must have been something bad because he has been sitting at this table all year long.” That day opened my eyes, my ears, and my heart for my son.
Becky L. Milton, Newington, Georgia

One Parent's Dream

  • Really understand all the skills required to complete the work (brain-based learning, learning styles, and so on).
  • Understand that their reading and writing skills are probably far superior to the average person's and so they should provide detailed and methodical instruction about skills that they might think were intuitive.
  • Develop a plan and use it to overcome or circumvent our son's deficient areas without our having to research software and other services and meet with the principal to encourage the teacher to act.
  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of anxiety and other emotional disturbances and intervene appropriately.
I also dream about more flexible school systems that will allow each child with a learning disability to progress at his or her appropriate rate, rather than moving from grade to grade without the necessary skills or with very weak skills.
Julie Stephenson Hansen, Delta, British Columbia

Sometimes Schools Know Best

To state that parents know best regarding their special needs children is a false assumption. In my 36 years as a special education teacher and administrator in the Pennsylvania public schools, I have learned that parents of children with special needs may have important insight into their child's learning and social behavior. This information should be received with respect and seriously considered when developing the child's IEP. However, I have also had the experience that some parents lack knowledge, have distorted perspectives and unrealistic expectations, and deny their child's needs.
Currently, too much control is in the hands of the parents. In Pennsylvania, a parent can reject special education services, even after it has been clearly documented that a child needs it. The school district used to have an option to request a hearing in such cases, but now the legislature has allowed the parent to veto any services. The federal law still requires the school district to be held responsible for providing an appropriate education. This is a ridiculous situation. Instead of assuming parents know best, ACSD should be leading the public in the direction of “the best educational programming for the student.”
Frank Romano, Hatfield, Pennsylvania

A Mistaken Diagnosis

Not so recently, our school system incorrectly diagnosed my daughter with a language impairment. My daughter has been raised in a bilingual environment since birth. For the first five years of her life she was home with her father, who speaks Spanish. Under federal guidelines and the definition of “Language Impaired,” the school district must determine authoritatively that “the language disorder is not a result of dialectal differences, second language influence, or a lack of instruction in reading or math.”
In the original summary of data and diagnostic summary, the case manager did not mention that my daughter was being raised in a bilingual environment. All information pertaining to her father was left out of all documents as if he had no interaction with or influence on his own child. Spanish was the language of the home until I separated from her father. I have given the school system all of this information, but they have disregarded it.
I have been fighting the faulty diagnosis since May 2005. I have even had my daughter evaluated by a nationally recognized expert in speech/language pathology of the culturally and linguistically diverse child. The report clearly indicates that my child is Hispanic, has a second language, and should not be diagnosed with a language impairment. My child does have a medical diagnosis of ADHD, which the school district has chosen to disregard.
The number one thing I wish the school district would do in my daughter's case is listen to the parents. They should allow us to be active members of the diagnostic team. They need to put aside their pride and their ignorance of other cultures and admit they are not infallible.
Regina Malone Del Villar, Springfield, Missouri

Services Are Needed

My son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was in the 2nd grade. After much struggle from kindergarten to 2nd grade, I put him in special education in the Atlanta Public Schools with an IEP.
My son's experience has been that the teachers are not empathetic and at times treat him as if he has total control over himself and his environment. I am frustrated with the lack of services given in class for his reading deficits and poor math computation skills. I have moved him to a charter school to see if the different instruction would help, and the problems seem to be worse. The public school system lacks teachers trained in how to teach children with learning difficulties.
My child is probably dyslexic and needs special training, but the school system has nothing in place to help him nor do they have any plans to help him achieve his 5th grade goals.
Rosalind Burton, Atlanta, Georgia

A Dual Perspective

I offer a unique perspective as a learning specialist with a master's in special education and as the mother of a child with multiple disabilities. I began my journey on behalf of my son as most parents of children with special needs do, hopeful and naïve. My son's first education placements and my experiences with the system altered my outlook.
With the passing of No Child Left Behind, my lost hope was restored, but in short order, I was disillusioned yet again. Local education agencies translated increased accountability into decreased identification. IEP teams found reasons to deny proper services and appropriate placements to save a buck and their backsides rather than make decisions based on the best interests of children.
Sitting across from my fellow special educators and administrators at my son's IEP meetings is disheartening. Shaking my head in disbelief, I have watched as some of my special education colleagues bite their tongues in fear of administrative repercussions.
Increased accountability can be beneficial for the special needs population if public school IEP team members heed the voice of reason, employ the sensibilities of the special education profession, remember and reflect on why they became special educators, and exercise humanity by listening to the people who know students best, parents. I ask not that public school special educators and administrators circumvent special education guidelines and laws but that they approach the process with their brains and put their hearts in their practices to allow for positive changes in special education.
Amy Morales, Annapolis, Maryland

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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