Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What to Say When Parents Ask--What Did I Do Wrong?

Over the last month I have had two separate ARC meetings that were to discuss a referral for special education and to get permission for evaluation.  On both occasions, both sets of parents knew something was "not quite right" with their child and that there was something that "wasn't clicking."  As the meeting progressed the parents opened up more to our team and began to discuss their feelings about their child and how they really feel about their child possibly having a disability.  On both occasions the parents became very emotional and really put their heart and their feelings on the line.  They blamed themselves and asked, "What did I do to cause my son/daughter to be this way?"  This is an extremely hard question and maybe it doesn't have a right answer, but I felt like I owed it to the parents of these kids and all others that I may have contact with an answer.

I have been teaching for 8 1/2 years now and this month I just really realized the extreme impact that learning that your child has a disability has on the parent.  I teach intermediate level students and usually by this time in school many of the students I work with are already identified and have been for several years.  However, because of Response to Intervention some students are being identified farther into their school years.  (Or at least that seems to be the case in my experience.)

I began to look for information online that would help explain to parents the affects of having a student with disabilities.  I read somewhere, but know can't find the article, that learning that your child has a disability is a bit like going through the grieving process.  One of the parents I spoke with actually echoed this to be true.  He said that he had expectations of his son playing sports and interacting with other kids on a team, but his son has no desire for those things.  The parent said that he has had to come to terms with the facts that what he expected is not happening, so he began to look for the good things in his son and be thankful for all that he can do.  He had to let those expectations "die," and come to terms with a new reality and how wonderful this can actually be, too.  Below is some of the most helpful information I found:

And here are some suggestions from me:

  • Learn about your child's disability.  The more you know and research about your child's disability the better advocate you can be for your child.  Talk to the special education teacher (believe me, I am here to talk and answer questions, but often parents don't seek me out), ask questions, join with others that have children with the same challenges, and participate in all meetings about your child.
  • Accept you child.  Like the parent said to me, "I know he is not going to do something things I expected, but be proud of the things he can do."  You need to get to know your child and find out what he/she is good at and build on those strengths.  Love your child for who they are and don't spend time comparing your child to someone else's child.  We are all fearfully and wonderfully made.  Each of us serves a purpose.  Your child has a purpose!  
  • Speak positive words into your child.  Your child can be whatever they want to be in life and just because they may have a disability this does not mean they have to be limited or pigeon-holed into a certain way of life.  Tell your child they are special, unique, and that you love them unconditionally!
  • Celebrate success!  If your child has difficulty reading, celebrate a good grade on a reading test or remember 5 new sight words or whatever they accomplish.  It makes people feel good to be rewarded...reward your child with praise and love.  Build their confidence!  Accept and celebrate their differences and achievements!

I would love to hear how you talk to parents when they are first learning about their child's disability!  Leave me a comment and tell me your strategies or stories about how to help parents cope.



  1. Hey, I've have nominated you for the Liebster Award! If you haven't already gotten / done this, check out my blog for all the details!

  2. Your sister, Michele, gave me the link to your blog. I'm glad I stumbled across this post and your blog. We are just going through the diagnosis process for my older son. The current diagnosis is high-functioning autism, although we've been referred for more extensive testing to help rule out other possibilities. It has been a stressful process, and I appreciate reading your thoughts as an educator.

    1. Michele told me that she gave my blog out to a friend. I am glad you looked me up. I am also grateful to hear that you appreciate the thoughts on this post. If you have questions about autism, meetings, or just surviving feel free to drop me a message. :)


Your comments make me smile! :)