When I send my boys out the door each morning and put them on the bus, I always wonder how their day is going to be. Will the bus ride be safe for them? Will they get teased for stimming by the other kids? Will the bus driver and aide be kind and patient with them? I can only pray and hope for the best, because I can’t go with them. Giving up that control is not easy for a special needs parent. We are use to people misunderstanding our kids, and usually we are right there to protect them. What happens when we are not there? For those of us with nonverbal kids, that is something that we will always wonder.
Most children can come home and tell their parents all about their school day, but not our kids. We have to rely on the notes sent home from the teacher to see how the day went. If the teacher is in a hurry, then we may not get any notes some days, and we are left to wonder how the day went. We have to worry about things that other parents never even have to think about! Like who is helping our teenager in the restroom? Are they being mistreated in any way? Is their integrity being upheld and are they being treated kindly? They could never tell us if they weren’t. Yes, even verbal children with autism are not so great at reporting daily details back to their families, and the nonverbal kids can’t say anything at all.
As teachers of our special kids, we know you have a challenging job to do! We understand because we have a similar job to do too since we live with and raise them. We face burnout sometimes just like you. Our days never stop, and most of the time we are up half the night too because our kids don’t sleep. This is your job, and you chose a special Ed classroom to teach in. Most of us admire and respect you for that! It’s a hard road to go down, but we know firsthand how rewarding it can be. Please remember why you chose this profession when the hard days come. Don’t go on Facebook and tell the world how awful special needs kids are to teach, and please (I beg of you) don’t ever take your frustrations out on the children. They are facing so many challenges themselves every day, and they don’t mean to make you upset and angry. When you stay calm and handle their behaviors appropriately, it is so comforting to them and it brings peace to their parents as well.
Going to school as a child was hard enough. Can you imagine going to school and not being able to speak? Being the weird one spinning at recess, or having a blazing meltdown because you simply can’t control the body that you are in? Now imagine everyone getting mad at you and treating you poorly because of it. Sadly, those things still happen in far too many schools these days. Teachers sometimes take the behaviors personally, especially when the behaviors become physical. We know how awful it is to be hit, kicked and screamed at during a meltdown. We know the feeling of fear mixed with adrenaline, and we will be dealing with it for the rest of our lives as the parents. We also understand that these meltdowns overwhelm and frighten our children. In fact, it might surprise you to know that even when they are at their raging worst we still feel compassion for them. Why? Because we know that this is not who they are on the inside. There is SO much more in there besides the anger and overstimulation that often spills out. We hope you see the good in them too!
We are all trying our best here…at least I hope that most of us are. There are good parents and bad parents, just like there are good teachers and bad ones. I’m sure that as a teacher you have seen your share of poor parenting over the years, but I hope that you will always try your best with these students despite their difficult home lives. I consider myself to be a good parent- I’m very involved and I am an outspoken advocate for my children. Please do not take my advocacy the wrong way! I know you are not the enemy, but I do feel the need to ask a lot of questions and look into everything. You are not the first teacher my boys have had, and you will not be the last. I need to stay on top of things to ensure that my boys are learning and being treated right. Don’t take it personally, but I don’t know you well and I am only looking out for my children’s well being. As a good parent, I believe you’d do the same if you were in my shoes.
My approach may be different than yours would be if you were the parent, but please try to respect that. If I put my child on a special diet that you think is silly, please respect my wishes anyway and don’t feed him things that are not allowed. If I disagree on medicating my child for behavioral reasons, please try to understand that I have done my research and I have my own reasons. I want us to get along so that our working relationship is a pleasant one. Your job is about so much more than just teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, and I realize that better than anyone. Most teachers don’t have to deal with changing the soiled pants of a 12 year old, but then again most parents don’t have to deal with that either.
Thank you for teaching my child. Thank you for every time you have diffused a meltdown calmly, dealt with a difficult behavior peacefully, and used positive behavior supports instead of adversives. You are appreciated more than you know, and I pray that you always treat your students just as you would want someone to treat your own child. Your kindness and understanding will go a long way towards making a difference in this world!!!