Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Parent Piece

from a presentation I gave last fall....

As educators, we focus a lot on our students with special needs and our teachers. But there’s another piece that we need to focus on, too: the “parent piece.” I’d like to take off my educator’s hat now and speak to you as the parent of children with special needs.

As an educator, there are several comments I frequently hear from teachers: If they [parents of children with special needs] really cared about their child’s Jewish education they’d medicate their kids during religious school, too.

Medications can help with certain issues. They don’t make the situation go away, but they can make it better – “can” being the operative word. Not all meds work for all children. Every medication carries with it a cost, a side effect. Common side effects with stimulant medications are lack of appetite and difficulty sleeping. So parents of a child on this type of medication face difficult choices -- do they choose to medicate their children, so they have an increased ability to focus and control their behavior – or do they choose to have their growing children eat … and sleep? I have the most beautiful pictures of my daughter’s bat mitzvah that are almost too painful to look at. The pictures were taken after a summer on much-needed stimulant medications – she weighed less than 95 lbs then and looks emaciated..… Parents make the best decisions they can for the whole child.

Why don’t they tell us what’s going on? Why don’t they share information with us?

There are many reasons why parents don’t share information. They may be unaware of their child’s behavior – after all, the parent doesn’t see the child in a school setting. They may think that with our smaller class sizes and shorter period of instruction, their kids can hold it together okay. They may have some of the same glitches their kids have – and find it difficult to advocate, explain or organize themselves in such a way as to be able to share information in a helpful way.

But there’s another factor, one that might be hard for many of us – with our love for school and learning situations – to understand. For many of our kids with special needs, school is not a good place to be. It is where they often feel most incompetent…. and a place where they have no friends. Parents spend a lot of time and energy fighting for their kids – trying to make their kids’ school experiences less negative. For many, they just don’t have the energy to expend in working with a supplement school – in addition to their child’s secular school.

What would we have you do? Listen….. just listen and suspend judgment. Help make your school a safe haven - or "sanctuary," if you will - where they can share their "stuff" without worrying about your response. That's the starting point. The details can be worked out afterwards.

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